Stars of boxing and rugby set for Manchester International Athletics 2018

Manchester’s former world champion boxer Anthony Crolla will lead a team of boxing stars against a specially assembled rugby team, in a unique sporting challenge incorporated into the Manchester International Athletics meeting, which takes place on 15th August.

Crolla will be joined by Hyde’s Stacey Copeland, who last month became Britain’s first ever female Commonwealth boxing champion when she took the Super Welterweight title in Zimbabwe.

Now in its third year, the Manchester International sees an England athletics team spearheaded by Tameside sprinter Andrew Robertson take on athletes from Scotland, Wales, Iceland, and Northern Ireland and Ulster amongst others at the Regional Athletics Arena, just a stone’s throw from Manchester City’s Etihad stadium.

Raising awareness of the positive impact of sport on mental health

England Athletics plan to sign a “Time to Change” pledge on the night, a commitment to end mental health stigma, and, to raise awareness of the positive impact of sport on mental health, Crolla and Copeland will be joined by fellow boxers against a rugby quartet featuring former Irish International Luke Ambler, who himself founded Andy’s Man Club, an organisation committed to suicide prevention.

Boxing and Rugby go head to head

The celebrity teams will go head to head over 100m, long jump, shot put and the 4x100m relay.

Local hero Crolla, who memorably held the WBA World Lightweight title in 2016, competed against the Athens Olympics 4x100m team featuring Darren Campbell at last year’s International and returns in 2018 alongside Commonwealth Champion Copeland and Macclesfield’s Super Middleweight Jake Haigh, who boasts an unbeaten record in his two years as a professional. Completing the line up will be Melissa Anglesea of Suzi Wong Creations, Team Crolla’s all-important kit designer.

“The atmosphere at last year’s event was fantastic,” Crolla explained. “So when I was offered the opportunity to come back, I jumped at the chance. Enjoying good mental health is so important and as professional boxers we all know how difficult it can be to maintain it.”

“This is a great way to highlight the benefits of sport on maintaining good mental health and should also demonstrate that boxers are superior athletes to rugby players!”

Ambler, who represented Ireland at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and played for Salford City Reds, Leeds Rhinos and Halifax in his 10-year career, founded Andy’s Man Club, a support group for men experiencing suicidal thoughts, following the tragic death of his brother in law Andy after a period of depression.

“It is vital that we end the stigma of discussing our mental health,” explained Ambler. “We can’t wait to take part in the Time to Change Challenge to further raise awareness of our work and to remind people that it’s ok to speak out when they’re struggling.”

Ambler will be joined by Tara Jones, St Helens’ women’s captain and the first female match official in Superleague history, as well as Damian Clayton, the long-standing former captain of the RAF’s rugby league team.

Ready for a top sporting spectacle

Dean Hardman, Head of Business Partnerships and Major Events for England Athletics, said: “Over the past two years the Manchester International has become an established event on the local sporting calendar and we cannot wait for the 2018 edition to come around. That we’re also able to demonstrate England Athletics’ commitment to ending mental health stigma will make the night even more special.”

Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for Schools, Culture and Leisure, said: “Fans of track and field are in for a top sporting spectacle at Manchester International 2018 which is always hotly anticipated as part of the city’s packed sporting events calendar.

“Participating in sport has a positive impact on both physical and mental health but mental health problems can affect anyone, including elite sportsmen and women. We know people shouldn’t suffer in silence so it's fitting that this year’s event will raise awareness of mental health issues, helping to end mental health stigma.”

Come and be part of it

Tickets for the event can be purchased at and cost £5 for adults, while entry is free for under 16s.