Islington Boxing Club coaches help to develop the sport in Sri Lanka

Islington BC coaches Lenny Hagland (right) and Barry Healey (left) with students at the Narandeniya

Islington BC coaches Lenny Hagland (right) and Barry Healey (left) with students at the Narandeniya National School in Sri Lanka - Credit: Archant

Sri Lanka is not exactly renowned as a hotbed of boxing – but Lenny Hagland is hopeful Islington BC can play their part in changing that.

Hagland, the chairman of the Hazellville Road club, recently travelled to the island state to run a five-day training programme for youngsters at Narandeniya National School in the small town of Kamburupitiya.

Now there are plans for a return trip to strengthen the tie-up next year, with the chance for some of the Sri Lankan prospects to come to Islington for training.

The visit was arranged by Mohan Samarasinhe, a London-based expat and boxing fan who runs a number of charities and also helps to sponsor youngsters’ education in Sri Lanka.

Hagland, who was accompanied by fellow Islington coach Barry Healey, told the Gazette: “Mohan came to us and asked if we had any old gloves to donate to a school in Sri Lanka.

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“We’d recently changed some over and I’d rather they went to a second home than throw them out. It all went from there and he asked us about coming over to do a coaching course.

“We had two groups – one of complete beginners and one that had done a little bit of boxing before. The idea was to bring them up to a better level but also to coach the coaches, so that they can continue.

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“You could see some of the older group had a fair bit of talent that could be nurtured and my feelings were that a few of them could come over here and compete.

“Going forward, the idea is that we can bring them over for a camp here and next time we go to Sri Lanka, I’d like to take a few of our more experienced boxers – not just to help with boxing but teaching English as well.”

The Islington coaches were overwhelmed by the response they received at the school, where they were given a reception attended by hundreds of students and the sports minister of southern Sri Lanka.

The pair also travelled to the capital city of Colombo for a training session with students at St Thomas’ College, a private school regarded as the ‘Eton of Sri Lanka’.

“There are 2,000 kids in the school (Narandeniya) and we only worked with 120 or so, but they were all so welcoming,” added Hagland. “The respect we got from the kids was unbelievable.

“It’s a poor area and they haven’t got a lot – in terms of equipment, they only had the gloves we’d provided. We received a letter from the school principal, thanking us and saying we’d done a lot for them.

“Mohan told me the kids and parents at the school are still talking about the visit. It’s great to think we can help to engage children in the sport, spread it to a different part of the world and also put the club’s name out there.”

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