Boxing, myths and reality building in sport for development programmes

Christopher R Matthews, Ashleigh Hurrell, Thomas B Oliver, Alex Channon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The training regimes which are associated with boxing are thought to impart lessons in discipline that are particularly valuable for social groups often associated with the sport. This leads to a variety of sport for development programmes that seek to leverage this potential in one way or another. Research which is conducted on such programmes is often produced internally without academic support. We argue it is possible, and perhaps likely, for such research to evidence, justify and recreate sporting myths. To this end, we explore the allure and apparent utility of boxing as a sport for social development. We then consider how people involved in such programmes attempted to evidence their passionate beliefs in boxing's positive potentials. Rather than considering myths as being completely unfettered from objective reality, we have explored how they are part of an interactional process that can produce stubbornly persistent accounts of the world. We present this analysis as evidence of the ways that myths can become embedded in people’s lives and, as such, must be conceptualised accurately, accounted for empirically and explored using considered research strategies. Our observations paint an awkward picture of the validity of the evidence-base upon which boxing programmes boasted of their success. That is, embracing personal biases and avoiding rigorous, critical research methods were being financially incentivised, with no external accountability for challenging pre-conceived ideas and a priori conclusions. Our concluding remarks situate these claims within ongoing ontological, epistemological and axiological debates which sport development scholars have developed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-549
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Review for the Sociology of Sport
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Nottingham Trent University, (grant number NA).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Boxing
  • sport for development
  • martial arts
  • sociology
  • sport for development and peace
  • reality
  • myths
  • sports development
  • reification
  • great sport myth


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