Matchroom Sport chief wants to do his best to provide a living for self-employed athletes and entertainment for sports fans
Lockdown for Barry Hearn at his home in the Essex countryside took an alarming twist a fortnight ago. The Matchroom Sport chief found himself in hospital having a second heart procedure, following a first cardiac operation in 2002. “I’m OK, there are a lot of people in a lot worse positions than I’m in now. I was in and out overnight and I’m feeling OK,” Hearn, 71, tells Telegraph Sport.
“I was overdoing it in a long workout session at home and had some chest pains. Thank you to the NHS at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, and Basildon Cardiothoracic Unit for taking care of me. We have a wonderful NHS and I’m grateful to them.”
Behind the scenes, the health scare has not stopped Hearn plotting and planning from his Basildon base, just as his son, promoter Eddie Hearn, continues to do with his boxing empire. “I’ve had a very active life. For 45 years I’ve promoted sport. It’s my passion and it’s my life. Sometimes, it’s not so bad to take a step back. Sometimes you get a chance to reflect, and sometimes you get a chance to plan and improve. I take positivity out of every situation we’re placed in.
“This is an event company that does 650 events per year globally and suddenly I’m an event company with no events. But we have a thriving, successful business. I’ve been able to say to my staff that they will be paid a salary for as long as this lasts, that they will not suffer. I will create funds for my players where I can to help them through difficult times.
“We started ‘Darts At Home’ last week, and we are looking to what we’re going to be doing in three weeks’ time when I anticipate there will be a slight easing of the lockdown. Providing we have the support of the minister of sport and the Government, we will do our best to provide a living for our self-employed athletes and provide entertainment for sports fans around the world.”
The key, Hearn says, is to formulate new projects within the parameters of the government guidelines. “We’ve got to be a little bit creative. The world might change completely, who knows when we’ll come out of this. In the meantime we’ve got two choices. We can sit around and do nothing, or we can experiment and try to put a smile on faces. The darts idea is to put some sort of live sport on TV.
“Also, for most sports people in the UK, these are difficult times. If you’re a darts player, snooker player or a boxer, you only get paid when you play or fight. It’s my job to try and come up with ideas that provide entertainment for our broadcasters, but more importantly for sports fans. Before we all go crazy, sport can be some sort of release.”
Could the darts plan become a precursor for what may happen within boxing? “I’ve always said before, if I die and go to heaven, I want to come back as Eddie Hearn. The kid is smart, no doubt about it. We’re looking at doing behind-closed-doors events as a precursor to getting back to normal. When we come out of this mess we’re in, it won’t be back to normal. We have to adjust our sports to that. Eddie’s got plans, as always, to deliver the product and keep boxers busy.”
In the past week, there has been talk of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury meeting next for the undisputed heavyweight crown, asking their respective opponents to step aside.
“The question about big fights is when we all get back to normal, there’s going to be a whole host of people wanting to work. This is actually good news for boxing fans because the bigger fights will get prioritised and tick-over fights will get ignored. We’ll all see big showdowns far sooner than we would have done in the normal situation.
“Joshua is very keen to fight Tyson Fury, he’s a professional sportsman. If he can’t fight Fury, he will fight Kubrat Pulev. I’m hearing more that Deontay Wilder has some issues and he has an injury. There is a chance that Joshua-Fury might be fast-tracked to this year, but we’ll have to wait and see.
“But what I will say is this: people like you talk about the greater good of the sport. But let me tell you what sport is about, especially the heavyweight division. It’s about money. Legacy, yes, but it does come down to the life-changing money available.” But post-pandemic, there will be ongoing issues to combat, Hearn says. “Like everything else, all sport has been affected by this virus. Going forward there are going to be other complications. People are going to be more reticent to travel to major events for fear of the virus. There is going to be an ongoing government control over social distancing.
“It’s not an easy fix. Health and safety is paramount for boxers, officials and fans. We just need to be ready when the green light shows. Right now though, sport is secondary to the health of the nation.”
Indeed, just as Hearn’s health is important as he recovers by fishing at his lake at home and taking long walks, rather than hitting the gym hard.