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Biniati makes boxing history

Bbc
Friday, August 01, 2014

When you've been in boxing as long as Alex Morrison has been in boxing, you think you've seen it all.

Then comes the call: "There's a wee girl from Kiribati who's competing in the Commonwealths and wants to train at your place. And have you got any women she can box? She's never fought one of them before."

Not only had Taoriba Biniati only ever boxed men, until she arrived at Morrison's Glasgow gym last Monday she had never been in a ring.

The Kiribati boxing club consists of a punch bag hanging from a breadfruit tree.

Morrison is the manager of former two-weight world champion Ricky Burns and has been promoting boxing in Scotland since the 1970s.

In short, he is made from girders. Albeit soft ones. When he first saw Biniati, he wanted to adopt her and take her home.

"Unfortunately, I've already got five kids, eight grandkids and two great-grandkids," said Morrison.

"But I felt sorry for her. She looked kind of vulnerable, but I think she's harder than she looks."

Biniati flew out of Kiribati with only the uniform she was wearing and a pair of trainers. When Morrison saw what she and her two male teammates had on their feet, he sent one of his boys out to buy proper boots.

Alas, he couldn't find a woman for the 18-year-old to spar with, so Biniati had to spar with more boys instead. Kiribati is a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean with a population of a little over 100,000. It is beautiful, but it is also disappearing. Scientists believe that, within 30 years, it could be submerged by the rising sea.

Derek Andrewartha is a former Hampshire police officer creating a boxing legacy for Kiribati. A short legacy, it would appear, but one that will live long in the memory.

"We advertised for a female boxer to join our club and maybe compete in Glasgow," said Andrewartha, who visited Kiribati as a volunteer 47 years ago, fell in love with the place and never left.

"We laid on food and drink and thought there would be queues of girls, but we waited and waited. A couple of weeks later, a government minister turned up with this little girl and said she'd like to box.

"I hit her in the face — not hard — and said: 'How did that feel?' And she said: 'Fine'. She comes from a very poor family, but she's a lovely person.

"She has to spar with the boys and the problem is they're too shy to hit her. I wish they would sometimes, it would wake her up. But she does the best she can with what she has and trains as hard as we want her to."

Biniati's coach is Tarieta Ruata, who represented Kiribati at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, losing his first-round light-heavyweight fight to Welshman Jermaine Asare.





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