Thursday 25 May 2017

Last-gasp ultimatum fails to stop Walsh exit

Billy Walsh is to fly to America this morning
Billy Walsh is to fly to America this morning

Sean McGoldrick

As expected there was no last-minute resolution to the impasse between the Irish Amateur Boxing Association and former head coach Billy Walsh, who flies today to the US, where he is expected sign a contract to oversee the American women's boxing programme.

Following the dramatic last-minute intervention by Sports Ireland chairman Kieran Mulvey, initially on RTE's Prime Time on Tuesday night and then before an Oireachtas committee yesterday, hopes were raised that the IABA would soften their stance.

However, there has been no official contact between Sport Ireland - formerly known as the Irish Sports Council - and the IABA in the wake of Mulvey's comments.

Last night there were reports of contact between the Minister for Sport Paschal Donohoe and IABA officials but there is little chance of a resolution at this stage. Remarkably, apart from a statement on Monday from CEO Fergal Carruth confirming that Walsh has resigned, there has been no public comment from the IABA since.

There is no indication of how the IABA will react to the ultimatum from Mulvey to present a contract to Walsh which the chairman said had been agreed at a meeting on August 20 within 24 hours or Sports Ireland would review their funding to the boxing association.

Sports Ireland chief executive John Treacy indicated last night that the review is likely to take the form of a month-by-month audit of how the IABA spent the grants provided by Sports Ireland. But judging by Mulvey's remarks, the relationship between Sports Ireland and the IABA is totally ruptured, which could have serious implications for Irish boxing.

Revealing details of the fateful contract talks in August about Walsh's future, Mulvey said:

“We put the point to them, how urgent and essential this was to be resolved – that he had an offer from the US that he hadn’t accepted or signed but we needed to move,” added Mulvey

“I got so upset at that meeting that towards the end I had to ask the directors present: ‘Do you want to keep Billy Walsh? I got an answer saying ‘yes they did.’ It was the most unconvincing ‘yes’ I’ve heard in my professional career.

“Gross disrespect has been shown to us and the minister on this matter. And it can’t go on. The IABA are a government-funded body.

“It has now come down to a case of do they want him or do they not. It seems to me they don’t. In this proposed contract, Billy Walsh was told that he could not engage with the Olympic Council of Ireland, the Irish Sports Council or the media without the written permission of the CEO.

“Imagine Joe Schmidt being told he had to contact Philip Browne every time he wanted to announce a team. This is unconscionable.

“What was Billy Walsh looking for? I think he was looking for respect. And my God did he deserve it. The second thing he was looking for was authority, reasonable authority, to run the high performance programme without petty bureaucratic interference.  

“There was also a feeling that I sometimes get from meeting the IABA that there’s a resentment of the High Performance Unit and of the resources that go into it. Sadly, I don’t think Billy wanted to go.”

Welcome

Olympic silver medallist Kenneth Egan believes Walsh would welcome an 11th-hour move from the IABA to retain his services.

Walsh is expected to travel to the States in the morning to finalise a deal with USA boxing but Egan believes nothing is set in stone in that regard.

“I don’t know whether Billy has signed any contracts with the Americans yet, I believe he is going over to watch the women’s championships and then he’s coming home,” he said.

The hero of Beijing in 2008 said that issues over team selection for major competitions have always existed and he believes that there may be more to the disagreement than is in the public domain.

“There is fierce politics going on and for Billy to walk away it must have been more,” he added. “I was speaking to him yesterday, I was asking him how he was and he said, ‘I’m just drained . . . I was crying all last night but I have to do what’s best for myself’ and I respect that.

“What I heard in his voice is that he didn’t want to go.”

If  Walsh does leave, Egan has backed Zaur Antia to continue the high-quality coaching in the High Performance Unit,

“If Zaur stays, they will go on to win medals in Rio. Boxing is not going to fall apart,” said the Dubliner.

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