DUBAI // Ronnie Tucker is a fairly jovial man until he begins speaking about the toll that gang culture is taking on young people in his home city of Sheffield, England. Then he gets angry. "We had one guy, 23 years old, stabbed and killed outside a nightclub and the guys who stabbed him used to be his best mates," he said. "They have all gone to jail now but that's the type of thing we are dealing with."
Determined to disrupt the cycle of violence, Mr Tucker, 45, is working with boxing officials in the Emirates to develop a partnership that would show young people in Sheffield a different way of life and provide local boxers a new opportunity to hone their skills in the ring. Mr Tucker works with boys and girls involved in or on the periphery of gangs. Boxing, seen by some as violent in its own right, has become an integral part of that plan as Mr Tucker attempts to channel youthful belligerence into something positive.
"People think boxing is about aggression but it's about control," Mr Tucker said. "The hard cases never last because they don't have the discipline or control." The process may help amateur Emirati fighters as well. After visiting family in Abu Dhabi, Mr Tucker returned to Sheffield inspired by the absence of youth crime in the Emirates. He decided to find a way to forge a relationship between his boxing club, Handsworth Police Amateur Boxing Club, and the UAE Boxing Federation for the benefit of his students, many of whom are from poor families.
"Many of the children I deal with have never left their backyard," he said. "While I'm sure people in the UAE may look at the UK and assume the children will be well-advanced and well-educated, unfortunately that isn't always the case." Mr Tucker is in talks with the technical manager of the UAE Boxing Federation, Abdul Karim al Haj Taieb, to discuss ways to help both his students and amateur boxers in the Emirates.
While plans are yet to be finalised, Mr al Haj Taieb has expressed interest in inviting a team of five or six boxers from Sheffield to Abu Dhabi for a week-long training camp ahead of this year's Gulf Cup boxing tournament in the capital. A trip to the UK for Emirati fighters could also be possible during the summer, he said, adding that forming a relationship with the Sheffield club could benefit the UAE's 2012 Olympic aspirations.
"Our boxers are not as strong as the Asian boxers at the moment, so if a middle-level club is available to spar and train with, then I think that could help our training." One of the brightest national boxing hopes, Hassan al Madani, 17, agrees. "It is a good idea," he said. "It definitely helps us when we box and train with teams from other countries. It gives us more experience." Every boxer, Mr al Madani points out, has a unique style and he said that past training camps in countries such as Finland have been very beneficial in preparing for competitions.
Mr Tucker said says the focus of the proposed partnership would be along the lines of that very subject - gaining experience and learning from each other. "Every country teaches differently and I could come back with as much knowledge from coaches in the UAE as they could from the UK," he said. "That is how you learn and develop. "We just see that there is a niche opportunity here to work together."
That co-operation might also help cut street violence in Sheffield. While the number of gun and knife crimes there is relatively low in comparison to London, Manchester and Nottingham, in certain areas of the city reports of such crimes have increased in recent years. Groups of children on Sheffield street corners tend to create waves of panic among passers-by, who are often concerned about what trouble may await them.
Mr Tucker was impressed by the absence of that kind of intimidation and dread in the UAE. "What I have found out there is you don't walk the streets and think 'Oh no, there's a group of 10 kids on the street corner'. You just don't worry," he said. email@example.com