Creating a world-class event where you're inviting the world is an enormous task. Martin Stark is tasked with organizing the World Gay Boxing Championships that is going to be happening in Sydney in February of 2022. Martin is a proud Aussie living in Sydney where he works as a senior IT Strategic Procurement and Sourcing Leader. Diagnosed with Addison’s disease in 2006, he became an advocate of health and fitness, living his life to the fullest. Today on the show, he joins Ben Baker to talk about the story behind organizing the event and its amazing empowerment.
Welcome to another amazing guest. I have Martin Stark on from Sydney, Australia. He is the organizer of the World Gay Boxing Championships that are going to be happening in Sydney in February of 2022. There's an amazing story behind this and its amazing empowerment. We're going to get right into this. Martin, welcome to the show. Thank you for being a guest.
It’s my absolute pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
My pleasure. Let's get into this because this is an enormous task, creating an international event of any size. I don't care if there are 500, 250, 10,000 people there. Getting into a world-class event where you're inviting the world is an enormous task. What brought you there? What gave you the impetus to wake up one morning and say, "I want to form a World Gay Boxing Championship and we're going to have it in Sydney in 2022?"
I tell you it was by mistake, by accident. I started boxing training a couple of years ago. It started out because I wanted to have a few self-defense classes. I went to my local martial arts center. My second class was on boxing. I'm like, "Boxing discovered me." I was almost at the view, “Boxing will be working.” It wasn't barbaric but me and boxing, no way. I noticed the natural aptitude for it. I picked them up from private lessons and then building up and I started posting things on Instagram about gay boxing. I noticed there were less than 1,000 hashtags for gay boxing but the boxing hashtag had about twenty million posts. Am I going to fight one day? The answer was no because it was about enjoyment. I noticed that the Gay Games in Paris in 2018, they had boxing. They train more to go to the Hong Kong Gay Games in 2022.The biggest fight is within yourself and learning to be better at what you do. Click To Tweet
I started calling myself into a Gay Boxing Champion. My dream is to win gold for Australia but then I found out that boxing was no longer in the list of sports. I don't know the reason why but there are many sports they can have. I decided and approached my coach and said, "Why don't we create our own event? We'll call it the World Gay Boxing Championships." That's how it started. It was late. The idea of all the work I'm doing, I was dreaming of doing something for that dream is no longer there. Let's go and create a new dream. I have no idea how I'm going to do it. I approached and said, "We'll have to do it. What if we back by one year, I was going to do it in 2021." It’s far too much to organize. The plan is to be 2022.
It's an amazing thought to sit there and say you'd never put on a pair of gloves, never thrown a punch in a ring, never sparred with anybody and never been in there. Suddenly, you're sitting there going, "We're going to hold a world-class event in Sydney." That’s an aspiring dream. We call it the BHAG, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Most people sit there and say, "I want to get to the end of the day," or "I want to get to the end of the week." You're looking two years out to a world-class event. What drives you for that? There's got to be a daily, weekly, monthly motivation that goes into that because there are a million pieces that have to go into this. You have a logistics or procurement background.
My background is procurement. I've made big outsourcing contracts. The biggest deal I did was $300 million. I can work in a day which was $30 million. I didn't embrace carriage until about 2 or 3 years ago. I felt more confident negotiating a deal ten times the size. With that confidence and belief, I always think we should move forward. I've seen events such as the Bingham Cup, which is the World Gay Rugby Union Cup being organized. I've seen on television documentaries. I thought, "If they can do that, why can't I do that for boxing?" It's not all about me, it's about doing it for other people as well. I've written a few articles about Gay Boxing Championships. It starts around that, but it's something that people still don't feel comfortable to practice sports so you have a fair physical abuse. Research has shown that when people are involved in sports, they were looking to participate then mental health and physical health have better outcomes.
It's not about creating a stand-alone gay boxing event. It's creating an event where everybody is welcome to come along. We’re calling it the World Gay Boxing Championships that people can know how to greet you, you are friendly, but there will be straight people there that will be eyes there. It's finding a pathway to the sport. Boxing is welcoming and it's inclusive. There have been many openly lesbian world champions. I'm not sure we've had a gay world champion yet. This is the pathway to creating them. Tyson Fury is a Unified World Heavyweight Champion. He’s come out with some homophobic remarks. I would love for Tyson Fury to come along and support this event because we have so much more together as a community. That's why the vision is creating a community of champions.
My whole philosophy is we're human beings. Gay-straight, black-white, male-female, abled-disabled, elite and we're all humans. You look at something called the World Gay Boxing Championship and you sit there and say, "It's great." In a world that was trying to build inclusion, this is something that's setting everybody apart. It says, "Here's something that we can point the finger at." Your goal with this organization is to make it obsolete. Your goal is to sit there and say within 5, 10, 15 years to there be no such thing as a World Gay Boxing Championship because it's not needed anymore. Talk about that vision.
In Australia, we've had one of the biggest sporting stars like Israel Folau. He has his right to free speech. He has his right to his views. He posted on Instagram something along the lines of homosexuals is going to burn in hell. We've mentioned Tyson Fury gives us his homophobic remarks. When people hear that from sporting stars, if you're in the closet, are you going to feel comfortable to get involved in the sport if you want to be an elite player? I'm not sure how many openly gay footballers there are in the world. Are there any? I don't know. For me, boxing probably seems like the last bastion of the sport where gay men don’t feel comfortable to enter the event yet. Someday, somebody does a great job that says that LGBTQ fight nights are fright fight nights. I want to step it up and say, "Work in a house, a world championship event." We're going to be pushing them out of that because if you look at boxing, they combusted in many ways. The beauty of the sport is training. We do pad drills, bag drills, shadowboxing. There are many technical skills.
One of our dreams is to have one of the strains to judge your technical skills. This is where it doesn't matter because if you're hitting a bag or paddle, somebody’s judging you in your shadowboxing. It doesn't matter about your sex, agenda, age, race. You're going to be judged in your capability. This is what you can get. It's things like men competing against women in an open arena and in a safe way because all you're doing isn't we'll be judging how good you are at your bag drills, pad drills, shadowboxing. You're open to things like trans and non-violent people. I want to create an event where they can come along and compete. You look at trans people in sport. The debate now is, is there an unfair advantage for trans females? I don't know the answer to that but I do know they're going through highly-expensive to be announced many deep and personal questions about surgery and treatments. They go through all of that and then people are going to judge them, “You shouldn't be able to do this.” Let's change it. Let's create an event where people can come and compete for who they are.
That's interesting to create a series of events. You're going to have competitive events at the World Gay Championship. There will be a glove and glove. There will be people hitting each other. I'm sure that is but having that technical part of the sport celebrated where men can compete against women, anybody can compete against anybody and be judged on your technical capabilities, it brings us back to where figure skating was when you had competitive figures. When you had those competitive figures and part of your mark was sitting there saying it wasn't whether how well one player could throw another person across the ice, it was how well you could do the competitive figures.Most people seek to impress; just express who you are as a person. Click To Tweet
How can you do the technical part of the actual sport itself? I love that you’re bringing that into boxing because you're right, boxing is far more than the 3 or 15 rounds of 3 minutes that you do. It's the hours, days, weeks, months and years of training that goes into every single fight. When you're looking at those types of things, how are you going to communicate that? How are you going to bring this to the world because you're at the stage? How are you going to bring people to the world to sit there and say, "Whoever you are, come. This is what this event is going to be about?” How are you going to celebrate it in a way that's meaningful to people around the world that they're going to buy tickets to Australia and fly halfway around the world to be part of this event?
Part of it is the timing. February is in Australia week. It's pride all over the world. In Sydney, we have the Mardi Gras. It's coincided with Mardi Gras. This is a reason why people would want to come to Sydney, anyway. We'll be updating on the website with more around timing, our mission, vision, values, the draft five cards to give you a reason for what we're doing. That's where I'm going to need some attack from other people. I've got people on the websites, business plan and thinking about the logistics. There's a lot of stuff taking place in the minutes, but the website will be the big primary communication and then we'll have to look at things like social media. You have to do things set-up for not-for-profits. Legal status, charity status, there's so much to do.
If I don't do those things in 2021, it's going to be hard to organize the event. This has to be sanctioned. We will align with the rules. It needs to be sanctioned by the needs as well as Combat Sports Authority. It has to be sanctioned by the New South Wales Boxing Association, the Australian Boxing Association where all Australian boxing is made. There's a lot to do and that's why I'm going to need help and have a board together. It will be a website, social media and people telling other people as well because I would say the first championships, most people will be shown in New Zealand and a lot of people will come.
However, in 2023, Sydney is hosting WorldPride which happens every two years. For the first time, WorldPride has been held in the southern hemisphere. I would love to see the World Gay Boxing Championships happen again in 2023 where it will be twice as many people who come to Sydney for Mardi Gras. I would like to think people will come out for boxing. A week before the Mardi Gras parade, people get the opportunity to come and compete, but also explore the beautiful Sydney and possibly Australia. I think 50% of the world is less than 10, 11-hour flight from Sydney. Most sporting events tend to be in Europe, North America. Why do we not have things in the southern hemisphere? Why can't we have things in Asia and Australia? I also want to give something back to my city and my country and have an inaugural world championship event. I like giving back to the community.
I remember how important the Olympics were in Sydney. That was many years ago. I remember watching the Olympics in Australia and watching the pride of the world when they came to Australia because I believe that was the first time that the Olympics was held in the southern hemisphere.
It was the second because Melbourne hosted the Olympics in 1954.
That was a little bit before my time.
I arrived in Australia way before the Olympics and I experienced the Olympics of the Sydney games for two weeks. Swimming used to be my sport. I was there in the seven nights of the swimming finals. My favorite was the freestyle relay because there was an American swimmer called Gary Hall Jr. who said, "They're going to smash the Australians like guitars." Thomas was for the UK but we were behind. Australia was my adopted country. Ian Thorpe, who is not an openly gay swimmer, is Australia’s most celebrated Olympic champion. He won five gold titles. He was a fond swimmer, dived in and Australia won the gold. I was sitting behind an American lady and I heard her say, “We've got it now,” when the American swimmer dived in, but then Ian Thorpe came back and won the gold.You might disagree with somebody but respect and kindness are basic human values. Click To Tweet
There was that moment of eruption. It was biased because it was mainly Australians in the crowd, but it was a huge celebration of the unexpected win. This is what I love about the championships, it’s unexpected. People don't expect gay people to be boxing. People don't expect things about humanity, yet we are people, we can achieve things in mind. The World Gay Boxing championships are a way for people to take up the sport, participate in society. Bringing the boxing world and bring the whole community together. My favorite thing is somebody straight, people said, “I want to do this.” I love the idea of having straight World Gay Boxing Champions. How powerful is that as an ally in the World Gay Boxing Champion? I’m gay now, I’m straight. It doesn't matter and that sport is implicit.
I love that you use the word community. The fact it's a community and the fact that boxing itself is a community and that sport is about a celebration of excellence. It's celebrating that excellence wherever it is. That's the true meaning of sport. There are times I wonder if the Olympics have walked away from that but that's another argument altogether. You sit there and look at amateur sport, the love of sport, the training, the excellence and the drive that is behind people. That has no balance whether you're a man, woman, gay, straight, black, white, Chinese, it doesn't matter who you are. You're part of the boxing community. That's a powerful story. It might be a story for you to tell us you're building this out is the fact that it's a world community of people that are seeking excellence. You told me this amazing story about how boxers relate to each other and the respect that they have for each other. Tell me a little bit about the touching gloves and opening the ropes for each other and all that because that's powerful.
I started sparring in June. It took me a long time to get sparred. I was the victim of sexual assault. I was assaulted by a female. It’s hard to share my story to a certain extent. Boxing became my place of strength and my boxing crew always embraced me, welcomed me and helped me. I've been able to be vulnerable, but be strong at the same time. I have a rare autoimmune disease, Addison's disease. My body doesn't produce cortisol as your body does. I hadn't noticed any crisis after training for about four months. There’s that care and compassion. When we spar, we open the ropes for each other. Before the round starts, we touch gloves. When we finish the round, we touch gloves. I have a seventeen-year-old boxing coach, one of the boxing coaches in the club, and he's coaching me how to hit him better. He keeps telling me, "Do this drill, practice that drill." We were encouraging each other to do better. In the end, we hug. We do this because it's about friendships. There was the fighting element but it's often the biggest fight is within yourself and learning to be better at what you do. That's the beauty of the friendships and the beauty of the sport.
When you're taking that thought process and you're going out to sponsors, what's the story you're going to tell? Part of what's going to make this a success and any organization is going to tell you this is sponsorship. Sponsorship and the sponsors that you get on early are the ones that are going to make or break that because if you can get a Visa or Coca-Cola or some world-class organization onboard, they're going to drive the other sponsors to come on board. The question is who the main sponsors that you would love to see behind this are? Why would they see value in being part of this organization and being part of this championship?
Part of the work behind the scenes is I’ve been working on a business plan. There’s a lovely couple from the boxing center who are helping other people. My vision is creating community champions that value life, leadership, inclusion, fearlessness, enjoyment and their various missions. With any sponsors, it has to have an alignment of values. I’d love to see Qantas. Qantas has been fantastic in that supportive magic equality. The message to the sponsors is we are a group of people participating in sports. We're coming together as a community. We're celebrating our differences but at the same time acknowledging humanity and humanity's incredible power to come together and celebrate life. It's got to be in alignment with the values of a corporate sponsor and a partner with the values of the World Gay Boxing Championships.
To me, this is the story. I'm in command of the inclusion of diversity. It's going to be a company that’s embracing inclusion, diversity that will want to come along and come aboard. I tend to buy Nike shoes. I am going to be a bit controversial here. I don't understand what is wrong with nailing down Jordan. I feel as an outsider or as an observer and a friend, I've got a friend in America. Colin Kaepernick is sharing an incredible coverage and he's been respectful by meeting them. If it was turning his back or doing anything else, I don't get it, but I see this whole sophistication and elegance in what he's doing. When you see Nike sponsoring him and I saw people burning trainers, I don't get it.
That's the thing is when you're not from a certain part of the world and there's that deeper meaningful thing, there will be people who will hate what I'm doing. I've been trolled. I've had somebody in one part of the world asked for civil life. I had one guy from Texas saying I was injecting the gay gender in sport by being more articulate. I've been sent Bible verses from somebody saying I'm approaching 666 and seriously, it doesn't bother me. It’s corporate sponsors. Everybody truly believes in committing and the bias of humanity. That's what we are, we're humans boxing. That's what we're doing.
I love the fact that you've named the Nikes and the Qantas of the world. You're right, it's organizations that believe that the world is better when we're all together. I have a saying that says we are all stronger together, #WeAreAllStrongerTogether. It's understanding that there are going to be people who are going to hate you. There are going to be people who are going to be against you. They're not going to understand why you're doing this. We also need to understand that the world is made out of 7.5 billion people. You can't appease everybody because if you say you're going to sit there and say, "I'm going to appease everybody," you're going to lose your mission, vision and value. I give you celebration and kudos the fact that you sit there and say, “These are the goals, the tenets, and the pillars that we're willing to stand on. This is what we believe. This is how we're going out to the world.” The more you can communicate that effectively, consistently across mediums, the more successful you're going to be. What you're going to do is be able to give people that attitude that they can tell your story for you. That's when the movement starts.
It is. It's about people having the courage to enter the ring. It’s the courage to enter the ring of your choice that's going to do something that you want to do. Most people seek to impress, just express who you are as a person. I couldn't say people can support me. They can ignore me, they can put me down but I'm the only one who can allow them to stop me. It's the sound criticism in life that's going on some social media platforms. I'm like, "What was going on? We've lost the ability to disagree respectfully." I believe in the minus three speeds but that also mean the rise if we reply and saying what you're saying is unacceptable. My thing is to come and join me, come and have a conversation.
One of the things the World Gay Boxing Championships are trying is to start people boxing. It could be things we talked about like technical skills. It could be you've started this a few months ago, a few weeks ago. You can turn it on and get back to the time and have a go. It's been close to enough if we haven't been doing sport for a while, the opportunity for you to come to participate as well. The inclusion and diversity but a lot of it are about participation. When people start competing, doing different things and we don't need to talk too much about inclusion and diversity. We still talk about things we're talking about 20 or 30 years ago. We've had far enough.
What you're doing has great ramifications beyond the ring because when people start something, they commit to something, and they have the drive, the goal, and the vision for something, success happens. Whether it's in sport, business, or personal life, there are amazing, powerful things that happen when you sit there and say, "I'm willing to take that first step across the chasm." It's like that first day that you jump in the pool or the first day that you decide, "Today is the day I'm going to leave whatever corporation I am and I'm going to go out on my own and create my own company." It's that sitting there going, "It's time for that new adventure. It's time to do something that I haven't done before."
What you're doing is you're giving people the courage to try in a safe, warm, and inviting way to be able to join this at whatever level. You're going to sit there and say you're going to have lead athletes, but you're also going to have events that are going to be for raw beginners to bring the new people into the sport and be able to sit there and say, "This is your first time in a ring. This is your first time putting on a pair of gloves and be able to have people there that can show people you can do it too." That is a powerful statement that you can do it too is extremely powerful.
I grew up in the 1980s in the UK and Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister. I didn't always agree with her policies but when you look back, that lady had courage. I'm not going to talk about politics but she had that conviction to follow through. She was a polarizing individual and changed the country, but there's a famous thing like the lady is not returning. One time when I've been trolled by the second article, I said, "Maggie T is entering the ring, the lady is not returning." He's like, "I've been trolled this way. My second answer was I'm not moving. This is what it's all about." We look at courageous people. I can get a true champion of the sport, it has to be the same because he champions other people. He would talk about winners. I prefer champions because you want to be them. It's engaging and they want other people to be champions as well. That's why I come back to the vision creating that community of champions. That's what this is about.
I call that leadership in business. It's the people that can inspire, that can bring people up, who can raise the tide for everybody and sit there and say, "You can do this too. Let me show you how and let me show you that this isn't as scary as you think it is.” That's amazing quality and I see that in you. What you're doing is inspiring people to sit there and say, "This is also possible." This is a possible dream. This is something that the world can embrace. It's something that it's tangible and people can grab onto and make their own. By doing that, you're sending out ripples of empowerment across the world. That, to me, is an amazing thing.
One of the companies to inspire me is Salesforce because it was 2013 or 2014, he's now Vice President Mike Pence, a governor I don’t know of which state, but they wanted to expand the village’s freedom so that gay people could be fired. Salesforce threatened to withdraw from the state. That courage to stand up and say, "No, this is unacceptable." It meant the laws were reversed. I can't imagine getting into work and being fired because I'm gay. That's fundamentally wrong. Salesforce has a chief quality officer. They tend to be believing it and equality is not about special rights or somebody getting a job because of X, Y, Z. Equality is a crazy environment where people can thrive and have opportunities. It took great courage for a big company to go and say, "We stand for this,” and to have to build influence, to have changed a lot. It had the right views and religious freedom. You refuse to serve the customer because they're gay. You're going to fire somebody because they’re gay. I guess you are a religious organization and you have exemptions. Even then, that's cruel, harsh, but I can't change that. All I can do is influence those around me. I want to start creating boxing and celebrating who you are.
You are changing the world because you're changing your part of it. You're changing your little part of it and you're right. No one person can change the world. I don't care if you're president of the United States. I don't care if you are Muhammad Ali or if you're Richard Branson. You can't change the world but you can change your corner of it. Some of us have a little bit larger ripple effect than others, but it's how we sit there and we sit there and say, "This is the world and the life that I've created for myself, and this is what I believe." If you're true to those beliefs, expound those beliefs, teach those beliefs and you do so respectfully to others, opinions get changed and the world changes.
Do we live in a perfect world? No. Is there perfect diversity and inclusion? No. Are we a few months away from it? Absolutely not. It's events like this that allow people to sit there and say, "Maybe I should think about this. I should look at this from a different point of view." Look at how I've been raised, how I've been taught, how I think or how I feel and sit there and say, "Is this still relevant in 2020, 2021, 2022, 2025?" Some people will take longer for that realization to set in than others. We're all getting older anyway. The more we can do to change that and change our little part of the world, the better off we are.
Australia had to go to the public to vote equality. We had a postal vote in 2017 and 62% didn't vote for equality. They didn't need to do that. The politician didn't have the courage to do a conscience vote and pass it to parliament. They spent $100 million which they didn't need to spend. As soon as I'm dressing properly, he said yes. Within a month, the legislation is inactive. I live in one of the most conservative parts of Sydney. About 75% are progressive. 75% of the people where I live voted yes. However, he was the former prime minister, didn't respect the wishes of his own electorate. This was his own policy. He will talk the chamber and refuse to vote. You can vote no, we can vote yes.
We had a general election in May 2019 and he lost his safe seat of the conservative side of politics and former prime minister partly because he refused to listen. It was incredibly sad. I didn't like to see somebody who was a distinguished gay for all the service. It's controversial statements but it went to an independent. I hate one of the main reasons because he stopped listening. When you have a policy, you're going to give it to the public to vote if we say yes. The same assumptions that people in your area voted yes and you don't respect what they do and there’s a problem because we've lost the ability to respect each other. You might disagree with somebody but respect and kindness are basic human values. That's also part of what this is about. It's celebrating the community.
The website is WorldGayBoxingChampionships.org. I want to thank you for being my guest. One last question I always ask before I let people go. When you leave a meeting or an interview, when you get in your car and you drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you and the Gay Boxing Championships when you're not in the room?
There's one word and I had it tattooed on my back, courage. It's in my DNA. It's made the biggest difference in my life. Embrace who you are.
Be authentically you. I absolutely love that. Martin, thank you for being such a wonderful guest. Thank you for shedding light on this. We're going to see what we can do about getting you some phenomenal sponsors. Hopefully, somebody in my audience is going to sit there and they're going to look and say, "We need to get behind this." A shout-out to my audience. Pass this around. Pass this to people that want to get behind this as sponsors, as participants, as people that want to come out and see this. It's going to be in February 2022 in Sydney. Come out and celebrate with everybody because I'm with Martin. I want to be at a position where this championship no longer needs to exist. That all of a sudden, it's all going to roll into and boxing is going to be about people and humanity and not about sexual orientation. Thank you, Martin. Thanks for being a part of the show.
You're welcome. Thank you.
Martin Stark is a confident, dynamic, collaborative and positive minded individual who literally has the word courage tattooed on his back! Originally from the UK Martin is a proud Aussie living in Sydney where he works as a senior IT Strategic Procurement and Sourcing Leader.
He recently led end-to-end A$300+ million strategic and commercial transformation project. Martin was diagnosed with Addison’s disease in 2006 shortly after surviving being placed an induced coma. Martin is an advocate of health and fitness, living life to the max and is arranging a World Gay Boxing Championships to be held in Sydney in February 2022.
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