-= Part 1 of 3 =-
Amir Khan is a boxing sensation and a British Muslim role model. Now he faces his toughest fight yet as he tries to help six troubled young men whose violent and antisocial behaviour is spiralling out of control. Over four intensive weeks, Amir and his team use the discipline of boxing to try to turn these young men's lives around.
Olympic silver medallist Amir Khan defies stereotypes. Not many British Muslims are celebrated as heroes but the televised fights of this 20-year-old boxer command audiences of millions.
Now he has decided to give something back. Over four intensive weeks, Amir and his team take six young men with a history of violent and criminal behaviour, and use the discipline of boxing to try to channel their aggression and turn their lives around.
Amir Khan also introduces the men to the values of his family and faith, to give them a sense of right and wrong. It’s an opportunity none of them can afford to miss. The police, courts and anger management classes have all failed to keep the six youths away from fighting. This is their last chance to get off the track that leads to prison or death on the streets.
Over the four weeks they spend in Bolton with Amir Khan, the six young men eat, sleep and train together as they follow a tough fitness regime that pushes them to their physical limits. Even the initial fitness assessments are a struggle. They’ve clearly got a long way to go if they’re to make it to the final challenge and change their lives.
Amir Khan’s family encourage them and give them a taste of the stability and support that has enabled Amir himself to fulfill his great talent in the ring. But old habits die hard, and the group of young men can’t resist hitting the town, binge drinking and staggering back arguing and fighting in the early hours.
An assault course, which their trainer describes as PAL – Pain Assisted Learning – reimposes some discipline and chases away their hangover. But not for long. When Amir’s out of sight at the mosque, they’re back in the pubs and clubs. He is convinced, though, that religion can bring them the kind of stability and sense of self-worth that it has given him.
The roller coaster of training followed by drinking and aggression continues, but gradually the discipline starts to take effect. The young men are introduced to a victim of a violent attack; they begin to develop an insight into the consequences of violence and are learning to control their anger and not automatically lash out when they are attacked.
They come from a variety of religious traditions, and try out different churches in Bolton, as well as learning about Islam from Amir Khan. They may not to pursue this when they go home but it helps them to think about their future and the values they want to embrace when their four weeks of intensive training finish.
At the end of the month they will face the biggest test of all, when they go head to head with experienced fighters from Amir's old amateur club.
Boxing sensation Amir Khan is a contemporary hero. Only 17 when he won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, he turned professional in 2005 and in July 2007 became Commonwealth Lightweight Champion. Tickets to his fights sell out in hours and 6-7 million viewers watch every fight that is broadcast on television.
Amir, who comes from Bolton in Lancashire, goes to the mosque every Friday and has had constant support from his family. Now he wants to share the discipline that he has learnt as an athlete and the values he has grown up with as a Muslim to help other young men to take control of their lives.
The angry young men
Niamat Ali Khan
Niamat has been involved in gang fighting between rival estates for a long time. ‘If they wanna have a gang war, then we’ll have a gang war … it’s areas hating areas, not one man fighting, it’s whole area fighting another area. My Dad said … “I bet by the time you’re 21 you’ll be either dead or in prison.” He’s not lying.’
Thomas Cooke (Paddy)
Paddy has spent three stints in jail – the longest was 18 months. ‘I’ve been involved in robbing factories and stuff, clearing floors and filling vans up and stuff.’ His violent temper means he often gets involved in street fights: ‘I got hit with a baseball bat, hit with a crowbar, somebody nearly took my head off with an axe. Really I’ve been pretty lucky … but one wrong hit and I could be out for the count.’
Jake used to be involved in football violence. ‘Dunno what makes it exciting … Coppers chasing you and everything and you get away with it … Your heart is just f---ing pounding. It’s like the best drug you can take.’
Tony has just finished a 14-month sentence for burglary and handling stolen goods. ‘When we used to do a burglary, it’s scary but it’s exciting. Used to think: wicked, tomorrow night’s going to be pukka!’
Derek has been on remand over a dozen times and has two convictions for assault. ‘I’ll completely lose it. I’ll snap from a nice, quiet person to a raging lunatic … I’ve been in care for most of my life, right, that’s what sent me off the rails really. I’ve still got a lot of pent up anger, really, inside me about that stuff. I don’t really trust anyone because of it, you know what I mean?’
‘“Stockton Mad Dogs, born and bred, strong in the arm but gone in the head.” Well this is what I’ve got done for: ABH, criminal damage and assaulting a police dog.’ Paul is on a police warning that unless he controls his aggression, he’ll be sent to jail.