Monday 29 May 2017

Boxers yet again keep Olympic flame burning

Michael O'Reilly Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Michael O'Reilly Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Eamonn Sweeney

Now that the dust has settled after the qualifying tournament in Turkey, it's worth reflecting on the magnitude of the Irish boxers' achievement. With six fighters through to the Olympics, we lie fourth in the men's rankings behind Russia and Britain, who have eight apiece, and Azerbaijan who have seven.

That means we are well ahead of some traditionally powerful and much larger nations, France (5), Italy (4) and Germany (3), as well as the powerful likes of Armenia and Turkey who have four apiece. We were also in fourth place in terms of medals won at last year's European Championships. Britain and Russia were ahead then too but second on the medals table were Bulgaria who right now have no qualifiers for Rio.

How to explain this discrepancy? Well, last year's Europeans took place in Bulgaria, which again shows what an advantage it is to be boxing at home in a major tournament. It's a pretty safe bet that Brazil will do much better in the Olympics than they would were the fights held anywhere else.

It shouldn't happen like this but any sport which depends on a judging process to produce a result is always open to problems of questionable interpretation.

What the Bulgarian whitewash also shows is that the IABA should fight tooth and nail to try at some stage to have an Olympic qualifying event held in Dublin.

Katie Taylor should qualify without too many problems at the World Championships in Kazakhstan but there's no point comparing the women's competition to the men's. At the moment women's boxing has only three weight divisions and in Samsun there were six female qualifiers, all of whom came from different countries. There simply isn't enough evidence to descry any pattern.

With six qualifiers at the moment and over half a dozen places per division to be won in the final tournament, Ireland are very much in bonus territory right now. Michael O'Reilly and Darren O'Neill, who Katie Taylor reckons was "robbed blind" in Turkey, both have the capability to still make it through.

And even though Taylor hasn't qualified yet, she still looks a decent bet for gold in Rio where Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes and Joe Ward are all medal prospects as well and David Oliver Joyce, now that he has finally made the games, could be a dark horse.

For the third games in a row it's the boxers who will carry this country's Olympic hopes on their shoulders. There's been a lot of focus recently on what's wrong in the world of Irish amateur boxing but the fact remains that boxing gets it right more often than any other Olympic sport in this country.

Credit where credit is due. Maybe it's time John Treacy and Sport Ireland left the IABA alone and focused their ire on some of the sports bodies which are underachieving on their watch.

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