'You have these vultures trying to earn off you. I'm not a businesswoman so I'm not into that'

Olympic champion Kellie Harrington explains why she’s happy to stay in the amateur ranks.

“WHEN YOU’RE DOING well in sport and you win, you’ll come out and have a million messages on your phone telling you how great you are and how proud people are of you, all this kind of craic. Next time you go out and lose and you’ve two text messages – one off your mam and one off your partner, telling you they’re proud of you and they love you and not to worry and to keep the chin up.”

spar-partnership-annoucement-with-kellie-harrington Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

Kellie Harrington is speaking to the media about former boxer — and five-time national champion — Sinéad Kavanagh, who relates to the latter part of that quote this week.

Kavanagh is an MMA fighter now and she suffered a first-round defeat to former UFC champion Cris Cyborg over the weekend at Bellator 271. The Dubliner was rocked by a clinical right hook from the Brazilian just over 90 seconds after the opening bell. The referee couldn’t allow the fight to continue as Cyborg lunged in to finish off her dazed opponent.

Harrington, who remains good friends with Kavanagh, is on the highest of highs. An Olympic champion and a national treasure, she’s committed to staying in the amateur ranks with the aim of defending her lightweight title at Paris 2024. There’s fame, glory and all the rest for her right now.

Fickle fortunes in the fighting game.

We are treated to about 30 minutes in the company of the Portland Row star over a video call to launch a campaign by Spar that is close to her heart. Harrington is passionate about the Dublin community she comes from, and she smiles down the lens while giving us the run down on this initiative which aims to reward mentors who work with local clubs and groups.

There’s a brief interlude when she has to make a quick dash to answer the doorbell. (It was “the internet man” in case you’re wondering).

But that only barely throws her off course when she returns to finish off her explainer about the campaign. Then it’s off into the Q&A section and the first topic up for discussion is the recent decision to postpone the Women’s World Boxing Championships due to Covid.

“For me it was a welcome postponement because I’ve had a very busy year,” says Harrington who was hoping to head out to the tournament in Turkey next month.

“I was sad though for other girls coming through but the way I look at it is it gives those other girls coming through a lot more time because we’ve a lot of new people on the scene. They’ve had a little bit of international experience but not a lot. They haven’t been in the high performance set up long either. Now they’re in the high performance set up, they have a lot more time now to prepare for the world championships, which are possibly in March of next year.

“So personally I think it’s been a welcome postponement on my behalf. I do feel sorry for those girls but I’m looking at it in a positive light that they’ve more time to prepare now, they’ve more time to get international camps in, international test matches, competitions. We have had one, we’ve just been in Sheffield for five days of intense sparring and then we’re off to Italy for a training camp and some test matches out there as well. So they’re on the right pathway.

“It benefited me because I’m going to be 32 next month and I’m not getting any younger. Recovery is key and again I’ve had a really busy year this year. We went from the qualifiers, which was quite intense, into the Olympic Games. The qualifiers were probably a bit harder to be very honest with you and more intense because it was day after day. We fought every day.

“There’s only so many times you can peak really and I was kind of worrying thinking, ‘Have I had my best this year? Why am I just going out here?’ I wasn’t really too sure. I wanted to get back into the swing of things, I wanted to get a bit of routine, I wanted to get that buzz and feeling before you fight and I wanted to make weight again. I know that sounds crazy but I wanted to make weight again.”

Harrington is about three months deep into life as an Olympic gold medalist. Indeed, there were celebrations for her incredible achievement but Harrington stresses that the party never got out of control. She puts that down to her teetotaler lifestyle, and a philosophy of keeping her circle tight and “celebrating the real with the real.”

kellie-harrington-celebrates-with-her-gold-medal Kellie Harrington with her gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

She’s flattered by the invitations to become a professional fighter, but she feels she has more to offer to the next generation of boxers by staying put. There’s also the fear of new people coming in to exploit her punches for profits.

“It’s nice to feel like, ‘Oh they actually think I could be a pro.’ It’s nice to hear that but at the same time, when I think of it, what I’ve done is great but if I walk away now and go professional, I wouldn’t have any space to come home and try and negotiate things for the next generation coming up.

“Regardless of whether I quality for Paris or not, I want to try and pave the way for women in boxing and get more for them really. In fairness, since Bernard has come on board in 2016, what he has done has brought women’s boxing to the next level by giving us the chance we didn’t have before then.

“I want to give more women the chance, not just the ones at the top, I want to open the door for more. When I have to do it, that’s what I want to do. But if I was to walk out now and go professional, you’re away in a business. You have these vultures trying to earn off you and I’m not a businesswoman so I’m not into that. I’m a sporting woman and I am where I am because of community, clubs, people helping me, people never giving up on me.

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“That’s what I love about it, I love these people and I think if you go professional, you lose that.”

While the wheel of fortune is still turning favourably for Harrington, she wants to use her success to inspire as many people as she can.

“Outside of female boxing, I am hoping to work with Dublin City Council – I’ll put it out there because if I put it out there it’ll more than likely possibly happen! – to open a club. It wouldn’t be to open a boxing club but a boxing gym where kids from the community can come at certain times.

“They’d have to do their homework and get a hot meal and a training session. We’d also take some kids from school but my vision is we won’t be taking fifth class and sixth class, it’ll be we leave it to the schools for who they put forward for training sessions. It would be people who come from a disadvantaged position where they are going down the wrong pathway like I was in life.

“They could go down to the club and train there without having to worry that they have to fight or compete. It would be something totally different.”

Kellie Harrington was speaking at the launch of the SPAR Christmas Community Fund, where 10 local community mentors will be in with the chance to win €1,000 each for their club or community group.

Visit for more details.

- Originally published at 15.58


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