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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Boxers bounce back in Sweden
By Jim Fish
BBC News, Malmo, Sweden

In a former print factory on the outskirts of Malmo, a whistle blows and a dozen boxers, men and women, begin skipping furiously.

Jenni Johannsen
Jenni is annoyed at the limits placed on the sport

They are all amateurs. Until this year, professional boxing was outlawed in Sweden.

The combination of violence and money proved too much for pacifist politicians. Now the ban has been lifted, the Fox Club is part of Sweden's boxing revival.

Tatiana Obradovic is slim, blonde and, at 18, Sweden's top-ranked flyweight.

She is set on becoming European amateur champion in Denmark this year.

After that? "World champion, and then maybe professional," she says.

'Good role models'

Jenni Johannsen is another woman fighter hard on Tatiana's heels, but annoyed that professional fights in Sweden will be permitted only within strict limits: 12 minutes per contest.

Boxing ring
Professional boxers are very good role models - they show kids rules and discipline
Mats Mattsson

Jenni scoffs at the concerns for boxers' health. "Speedway racing is much more dangerous than boxing," she laughs.

The Fox Club's success is thanks mainly to Mats Mattsson - a tall, bespectacled public prosecutor in Malmo, who decided to open the club after seeing so many teenage boys go off the rails and end up in court.

"Professional boxers are very good role models," he explains. "They show kids rules and discipline. They can come here, get in shape and learn not to fight in the streets."

The club now has 350 members of all ages and backgrounds. Many of them are former refugees from the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa, who make up a large proportion of Malmo's inner city population. They pay a lower membership fee, subsidised by the city council.

"We take in a lot of youngsters from the streets - of all religions and backgrounds. Whatever your background, the sweat's the same," says former Fox Club chief coach Kjell Rijnell.

In the Swedish capital, Stockholm, Bjorn Rosengren is a boxer turned lawyer who fought the politicians for years to get the ban lifted.

He now chairs the special commission which carefully vets each professional fight before it can be allowed.

Individual choice

Sweden still only has about 20 pro fighters, but at least they can now fight at home.

Bjorn Rosengren
Mr Rosengren likes to pose in front of a portrait of Napoleon

In the past, they have had to go to Denmark or Germany to compete.

For Mr Rosengren, who likes to pose in his chambers wearing boxing gloves in front of a portrait of Napoleon, it is a matter of basic freedom.

"It's up to the individual to decide whether he or she wants to take the risks - not the government," he says.

He adds that there have been more injuries in kick-boxing and the no-holds-barred "Ultimate Fighting" which, due to a loophole in the law, were never banned in Sweden.

Mr Rosengren quotes one official statistic from a Stockholm hospital: out of 80,000 head injuries in the last five years, most were from car and motorcycle accidents - none were from boxing.

"And we want to keep it that way, by limiting the length of professional fights," argues Social Democrat member of parliament Lars Wegendal.

He helped to relax the ban, while insisting that full-blooded professional bouts will remain banned.

Back at the Fox Club, the evening's training session is coming to an end, under the watchful eye of Sweden's last professional champion, middleweight Armand Krajnc, who is now retired.

His parents emigrated here from Slovenia, but he has had to earn his living abroad.

Asked how he felt when Sweden was bracketed with Cuba and North Korea, two other countries where professional boxing is banned, he bristles.

"Sweden is one of the best countries," he says. "Many, many countries are jealous of us. We are a normal country." Then he pauses and laughs: "But not in boxing!"




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Sweden
29 Mar 07 |  Country profiles
Fighting for Sweden's migrants
15 Sep 06 |  Europe

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