Athena to transform lives with charity registration

June 6, 2024 | by Chris Boyd


The Athena female sparring squad recently acquired charity status and will now be known as ‘Athena Female Empowerment CIO’, as they aim to provide opportunities and education for female boxers across the country.

The England Boxing family are well aware of how our sport can transform lives both in and out of the ring and over the past nine months Athena has been able to provide sparring opportunities for women and girls across the country. Off the back of that success, the charity now wants to make a difference outside of the ring.

“The idea was for it to be a regional squad for the East Midlands, but girls are just coming from everywhere.

“We started with 20 girls, then the Attleborough camp had 69. We’re also working with Kerry and Donna at Next Generation as well as Sally Anne Webb at the FLAG squad and the one we did alongside them had 96 girls. Even our most recent camp, which was the same weekend as the National Schools Championships, had over 70 girls”, says founder Paul Smith.

Paul is well known in the amateur boxing circuit and recently opened his gym Sneinton ABC in Nottingham, re-establishing the boxing club Paul stepped into as a five-year-old boy after the original Sneinton ABC closed in 2002.

Alongside Paul on the coaching squad are Vicky Woodhouse and Emily Harding and the trio, with support from NextGen and FLAG, have enjoyed instant success.

The first training camp was attended by then-WBA Bantamweight World Champion Nina Hughes, whilst WBA Super-Flyweight International Champion Shannon Ryan spent the whole day at the most recent camp, even helping on the pads.

Whilst the allure of meeting their idols would be enough to bring the girls together, Paul believes it’s the squad’s togetherness that is its biggest strength.

“There’s a real family feel with it. Although it can be serious we have fun too. Outside of boxing, it has become a real support network for the girls. A lot of the girls have made friends from it and are meeting up outside of squads.

“None of our girls go to the regional squad meetups, they only come to Athena. We’ve encouraged them to go but a lot of the girls tell us that ‘Athena is ours. The boys can’t take it away from us.”

With attendance thriving and the girls feeling a sense of pride in the squad, Paul and his team chose to register Athena as a charity with the hope of providing more competitive boxing and essential education. It’s with the latter that Paul’s passion becomes blinding.

“Realistically, one of the big things we want to do is bring sports psychologists in and things like that. We’ve got girls who have self-harmed, suffered from types of abuse, and live with eating disorders. The waiting list to see health professionals is so long now, we want to provide access.

“We’ve been working separately to provide help for those with eating disorders. When we began to experience that it just opened a whole new world to us. I’ve since been taking courses to help me notice the signs.

“Some girls are overtraining and not having periods for over a year. There’s a massive lack of education on how overtraining can affect menstrual function and how important it is for girls to have regular cycles.

“My parents run one of the biggest fertility clinics in Ireland. My mother-in-law specialises in fertility and we’re planning on her coming over and giving talks on the reproductive system, how important a regular cycle is, how to notice the signs of change etc. It’s not only about getting the funding to provide the education, but it’s about getting the right people to deliver it because there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

Athena also hopes funding will enable them to put forward more women for coaching and officials courses in the future, having helped one official and three coaches this year already. They also aim to take their boxers to the next level, by attending international camps, clubs and box cups.

“Our biggest goals are providing the girls with opportunities to box competitively abroad and enhancing the education we can give them. Switching to a registered charity allows us to apply for grants and access funding from places like Sport England, This Girl Can etc.

“We want to open doors for all girls.

“If Athena are to receive funding that doesn’t mean we’re going to cut off any of the other squads. If Athena gets funding, then the Next Generation gets funding, FLAG get funding and we can share that amongst the girls and ensure everyone gets support, not just us.”

An exciting future lies ahead for Athena and its boxers, but Paul admits it’s a path he never expected to take.

“The credit for the birth of Athena has got to go to Laura Sargeant (England Boxing’s Women and Girls Officer). I was lucky enough to be asked by her to coach on the Women’s Aspire Programme and if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have ever taken something like this on.

“I also have to thank Kerry Anais, Donna Harvey and Sally Anne Webb as they’ve helped Emily, Vicky and I make this really successful.

“Coming together to work together, not only for our own girls, has made this a success. There’s no boundaries or borders, just that one goal.”

Click here to learn more about Athena Female Empowerment CIO.