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Give a chance to the disadvantaged

Last update - Thursday, February 25, 2010, 11:00 By Robert Carry

Robert Carry: From the Home Front All sections of Irish society have been hurt by the death of the Celtic Tiger and the arrival of our ever-worsening recession – some more so than others.

Tax returns from the country’s top-tier earners are down by as much as 75 per cent, while our home-owning middle class has been hit hard by banking sector job loses and collapsing house prices. Immigrant communities, meanwhile, have been stung by the falloff in construction and the hospitality industry.
But for people from the most disadvantaged areas, in which unemployment was already through the roof, the shift has been less dramatic. If you’re a youngster growing up in a Dublin, Cork or Limerick council housing estate, then your chances of securing a decent education or a good job are slim – just like they always have been.
In fact, the number of people considered ‘at risk of poverty’ by the CSO’s Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) showed increases every year up from 2005 until 2008. In the 2008 report, around 25 per cent of individuals said they had experienced some form of enforced deprivation, a percentage largely unchanged since 2006.
The opportunities open to young people from disadvantaged areas are few and far between. They are more likely to be exposed to crime and drug abuse and will generally have no history of educational achievement in their families.
It’s little wonder – the service they receive from the primary and secondary schools they attend is often pitiful, and many are prematurely churned out with only a basic standard of literacy to show for their years in the system.
On top of that, the third-level points system means those who do complete their Leaving Cert have to compete for a finite number of college places with students they have no chance against.
Access to education has an obvious knock-on effect in terms of employment, and the disadvantages children are put at in their early years will stay with them for life. But when the playing field is levelled, the outcome tends to be quite different.
Boxing in Ireland has become almost a symbol of the predominantly working class communities that feed its ranks. The education system might be skewed in a way that leaves the monied with an advantage, but there is nothing to hide behind in a boxing ring. Despite a severe lack of funding, youngsters pour into boxing gyms in the toughest of areas around the country.
The heights Ireland’s boxers have reached are astounding, and quite frankly put most other sports to shame. In fact, more Olympic medals have been won by Irish boxers than in any other sport. At the Beijing games in 2008, even the Americans were out-medalled by our fighters.
In that same Olympics, our upper-crust equestrian athletes – backed heavily by State funding – managed to win a solitary gold in the dressage event. But while our boxers shed their blood to bring glory back to their country, the toffs brought only shame – they had drugged the winning horse and were stripped of their medal.
No other event could have summed up the differences between the wealthy and the disadvantaged in this country as succinctly as did the story of the boxers and the junkie horse.

There is something about hardship that can breed a hunger in people, which when channelled correctly can see the disadvantaged take off and transcend their humble backgrounds.
But boxing isn’t the only thing such people are capable of. Rather, it’s just one indicator of what they can achieve when given a genuinely level playing field – and demonstrable evidence that they are more than capable of excellence if given the chance.

Robert Carry has worked as a journalist in Ireland, Thailand and Australia

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