Covert ITV documentary explores safety of Ultimate White Collar Boxing in Leeds

An undercover documentary using secretly shot footage has raised concerns about the safety of 'white collar' boxing in Leeds.

Monday, 20th April 2020, 5:06 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 12:00 pm

White Collar Boxing Undercover - Exposure aired on ITV last night and is still available to view online.

It examines the safety standards of Ultimate White Collar Boxing (UWCB) events, which raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Read More

Read More
After Life season 2: Netflix release date of the Ricky Gervais dark comedy - and...

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Reporter Jonathan Maitland with Scott Williams (left) and Jim Booth (right). Picture: Nine Lives Media

Two undercover reporters attend training sessions at gyms in Leeds and London operating under UWCB.

The reporters investigate how people prepare and what sort of checks are made on them and their opponents before the big fight.

UWCB has said the programme presents an "inaccurate and biased picture" of its activities, adding that it had "identified a number of false claims".

Nine Lives Media, the production company that made the show, said that there was "significant public interest" in exploring the concerns and that the programme did not mislead viewers.

Jim Booth. Picture: Nine Lives Media

During an introduction session Mr Booth asks a member of staff in Leeds if there is a minimum amount of training sessions he needs to attend of the 16 scheduled.

The man says: "Half - you want to get to half of them… Eight and if it’s going to be less than that then speak to the gym and do some extra classes… They can help you with that."

After Darren Harrison, a coach affiliated to England Boxing, puts Mr Booth through his paces, he tells him: "I would suggest a minimum of 12 weeks, at three or four sessions a week.

"With plenty of sparring as well. Just to get used to getting hit. It’s all well and good being good on the pads but as soon as you start getting hit in the face or having to defend shots, it’s a different story altogether, you’re going to get hurt."

The gym involved with UWCB - which ITV has not named - told the broadcaster that it is not standard practice to do just eight sessions and it encourages participants to do more training.

UWCB told the filmmakers the safety of its participants is of the utmost importance, and that to imply their standards are less safe than another organisations because they are different is not the case.

Elsewhere in the documentary, former professional referee Mickey Vann - who was in charge of the world heavyweight 'Battle of Britain' in Cardiff between Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno - tells Mr Maitland of his concerns about what he saw during a fight in Leeds, which is seen in the documentary being held at New Dock Hall.

He says: "The guy in the red was taking punishment, didn’t want to carry on - you could see he didn’t. He even shook his head. And the referee said, ‘Box on' again.

Prompted by the interviewer, he added: "In those extra few seconds, you can take a killer punch. It would damage you. Permanently for life. It was a stoppage but it was far too late."

Boxing coach Marcellus Baz, who watched the fight with Mr Vann, said: "People are being sold a dream. I feel they are being sold something that is completely different to what actually happens.

"The level of danger that I see this evening is a lot higher than, say, amateur boxing. You know there were some bouts with an experience difference and to me, as a coach, as someone who has been a coach as someone that has been around boxing that is a red flag that is something where someone can possibly get hurt."

UWCB told the makers of the show that it denies mismatching and said that there had been no serious injuries at 20 events in Leeds.

It added that its injury rate is extremely low compared to other sports.

At the start of a 1,500-word statement refuting its portrayal in the documentary, a spokesperson for Ultra White Collar Boxing told The Yorkshire Post: "It is difficult to understand the motivation of the programme makers, Nine Lives Media, for targeting us in the way that they did.

"We feel they went out their way to present viewers with an inaccurate and biased picture.

"The safety of our participants is of the utmost importance to us and it is for that reason that we have developed first class systems to ensure this.

"We, of course, understand that boxing is a contact sport and with that comes a level of risk, something we make each and every participant aware of before they take part.

"In total over 62,000 people have taken part in our events, the cases identified in this broadcast account for less than 0.0015% of participants.

"We would point out that our injury rates are extremely low when compared to other commonly played sports such as football and rugby.

"We use some of the best gyms in the UK to deliver our training.

"To imply that our safety standards are less safe because they are different to other organisations is simply not the case.

"Our safety standards have been verified as best in class by our independently appointed medical advisors and our low level of injuries demonstrates this.

"It saddens us that Nine Lives Media, the makers of this programme, have chosen to ignore the numerous stories of participants who have had an overwhelmingly positive and rewarding experience with us.

"The feedback we receive from the vast majority of our participants is truly heartening with many of them improving their fitness levels, confidence and mental well-being while raising money for Cancer Research UK.

"To maintain our high standards, we constantly seek feedback from our participants and in particular their views on safety, medical provision and levels of training.

"In the two events featured in the programme the participant feedback was overwhelmingly positive, as indeed it has been across all our events over the last three years.

"It is also worth noting than none of the participants in either of the events featured in the broadcast suffered any injury.

"The claims put forward by the undercover journalists are not reflective of how we operate.

"We have identified a number of false claims put forward to us by these individuals and it is disappointing that ITV sought fit to proceed with this broadcast in these circumstances.

"We pride ourselves on the £21.9 million we have raised for Cancer Research UK for their vital lifesaving work and it is an association we look forward to continuing to support as we strive to reach our next target of £25 million.

"Indeed just over a year ago the producers of this programme; Nine Lives Media approached us to appear in another of their programmes as an example of best practice in the charity sector describing our work in this area as “wonderful.”

"It is our sincere hope that our participants continue to place their trust in us, as tens of thousands already have, and make their own judgements based on the facts rather than this programme."

On safety, the company said: "At each of our events a trauma trained paramedic and two medical technicians are in attendance along with a fully equipped ambulance.

"We believe our extremely low injury record speaks for itself but as standard practice we constantly review our safety protocols for participants to ensure they are of the highest standard.

On its fighter matching policy, it said: "Our matching process is constantly scrutinised and there are strict measures in place to ensure that all those taking part are evenly matched.

"Our matching policy provides that boxers should ideally be matched within a weight range of 3 kilos, and that the maximum weight difference between boxers is 7 kilos, and only in boxers heavier than 83 kilos. Any matches which fall outside of this criteria are referred to our Head Office for approval."

Mike Lewis, the show's executive producer at Nine Lives Media, said: "There was a significant public interest in investigating the concerns examined by the programme, and in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code the programme was fair, duly accurate and duly impartial and did not mislead viewers. It also fairly reflected the response of UWCB."

Simon Ledsham, Cancer Research UK fundraising director, said: “Since 2013, Ultra Events and its participants have raised £21.9m to help fund our vital research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. In accepting donations, the charity carefully considers the benefit to cancer patients, while fully adhering to guidance from the Charity Commission.

“In common with many other sports that people use to raise funds - like rugby, football and cycling - boxing is not without risks.

"Ultra White Collar Boxing matches are third party events, organised by Ultra Events Ltd, and the company is solely responsible for all aspects of planning and delivery.

“Participants fundraise for Cancer Research UK and their wellbeing is of paramount importance to the charity – hence we regularly review the partnership and safeguarding standards.”

The Royal Armouries, which runs New Dock Hall, has also been approached for comment.