Star-studded charity boxing highlights the plight of Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs

Press Release: On 27 June, The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) organised a landmark Gala Charity Boxing Match at York Hall – the home of East London boxing.

The match featured Repton – the UK’s oldest and most respected boxing club – against an Azerbaijani team from the Gabala Sports Club. The evening was compered by the legendary Gary Newbon – the face of ITV sport for nearly 40 years – and who is now a mainstay of Sky Sports’ presenting team. Sky Sports broadcast live interviews from the event.

The event – arranged in collaboration with Tony ‘Mr Arsenal’ Adams and Darren ‘Dazzling’ Barker – had dual objectives. The first was raising funds for the Mo Farah Foundation, and the second aim was to raise awareness of the plight of the estimated 875,000 Azerbaijani Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees who are the ongoing victims of the Azerbaijani–Armenian conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. This marked the culmination of a series of events organised by TEAS across Europe in recognition of UN World Refugee Week. Leyla Aliyeva, Vice-President, Heydar Aliyev Foundation; Syed Kamall MEP, leader of the Conservative Group in the European Parliament; and Lord Addington, Member, All-Party Parliamentary Group for Azerbaijan and keen sportsman attended the match, together with around 800 boxing fans and promoters, celebrities and pundits.

The main part of the evening saw eight thrilling bouts, with some of Repton’s brightest stars in various weight categories being pitted against their counterparts from Gabala. Boxing, wrestling, judo and other martial arts remain popular across Azerbaijan. The country’s national boxing team brought home two medals from the London 2012 Olympics. The night saw the Gabala team demonstrate their considerable tactical skills, combined with tremendous stamina and tenacity. Despite this – and following some close split-points decisions – the overall victory was awarded to the home team of Repton.

The star-studded audience included former world heavyweight champion Frank Bruno; former world light-heavyweight champion John Conteh; Aston Villa, and formerly Chelsea, West Ham and England midfielder Joe Cole; former Tottenham Hotspur Captain and England defender, Gary Mabbutt MBE; ex-England and Arsenal left-back Nigel Winterburn; reality television stars Chloe and Charlie Sims and a host of former Arsenal players.

Tony Adams, former England and Arsenal Captain, said: “Gabala Sports Club has got a fantastic boxing team that has been training very hard for tonight, and I am delighted to be their manager. It’s great to support the Mo Farah Foundation. Let’s also remember something that is dear to the hearts of the Azerbaijani guys – there are 875,000 refugees and IDPs and they should have the chance to return home.”

Frank Bruno, former world heavyweight champion, acknowledged the significance of the day: “Tonight’s event is very, very good and all the fighters are evenly matched. The Azerbaijanis are a tough people – I know they are good at martial arts – and this is evident from their performance tonight. The Gabala team may be amateurs, but many of the fighters are good enough to be professional.”

During the interval, a cheque for £10,000 was presented to the Mo Farah Foundation. The remaining proceeds were donated to charities assisting Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs.

The evening also highlighted the new TEAS ‘Many Happy Returns’ (MHR) initiative. This is an opportunity for members of the public and politicians to pledge their support to help Azerbaijani IDPs and refugees to return home. It also gives the chance to sign a petition requesting the re-designation of World Refugee Day – defined after World War II – as World Refugee and IDP day. The MHR website at www.manyhappyreturnsidp.com also uses graphic novel form to explain the background to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.