Birmingham – Carl Frampton enjoyed many memorable moments during his boxing career but the retired two-weight world champion has now switched his focus to campaigning for integrated schools in divided Northern Ireland.
Religious differences between Catholics and Protestants still shape life profoundly in the UK province, 24 years after the landmark Good Friday peace deal.
The vast majority of children still go to segregated schools and live in segregated communities.
Frampton, who hung up his gloves last year, is an ambassador for the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and is determined to use his profile to push for change.
The 35-year-old Protestant says he and his Catholic wife, Christine, are not churchgoers and did not christen their children, Carla, 11, and seven-year-old Rossa in church, preferring a humanist ceremony.
They do not go to an integrated school, in which pupils from both communities mix, but that is because none exists near their home in Lisburn.
“One of the issues is there are not enough options,” Frampton told AFP. “It is a prime school for becoming officially integrated due to the demographics of the area.
“There are a lot of children from mixed marriages and some Catholics. I am going to push on with it next year and hope they will accept.
“If I was involved with the primary school becoming integrated it would be a hugely proud moment for me.”
A survey of around 2,000 people carried out last year by LucidTalk for the Integrated Education Fund found that 71 percent believed integrated education should be the norm — a rise of five percentage points since 2013.
There are currently 68 formally integrated schools and colleges in Northern Ireland, which represent 7.5 percent of its educational settings, teaching about 25,000 children.
“The numbers do not add up as there is a desire for it,” Frampton said. “I think one of our biggest issues is we do not have a government at the minute.”
Northern Ireland is currently engulfed in a protracted political crisis following elections in May that swept nationalists to victory for the first time in the province’s history.
“The two main parties — the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) believes integrated schooling dilutes Britishness and Sinn Fein that it dilutes Irishness,” said Frampton.
“That is simply not the case. It is about kids growing up alongside each other. I do not see the argument against having more integrated schools.”
– ‘Access’ –
Frampton, who quit boxing after defeat to Jamel Herring in April last year, is encouraged by the story of his own school
“My old school, Glen High, is officially integrated in a loyalist (Protestant) area,” he said. “If you had told me this would be integrated I would have laughed at you.
“It is great to see times are changing and although I had nothing to do with this I am very proud of my former school.”
Frampton was speaking in Commonwealth Games host city Birmingham recently on the power of athletes to be agents for change.
The former boxer is aware of the weight his name carries.
“It does give you a little more access than an ordinary guy walking in off the street,” he said. “With a high profile I always feel like you should use it in a positive way.
“A teenager listens I think to a sports person, actor or successful businessman.”