Monday 18 November 2019

Now is the time to box clever

Not since the days of Jack's Army has a sports team been welcomed home to Ireland with more fervour than that of the crowds who thronged the streets of Bray and Mullingar.

Their joy, shared by the whole nation, wiped away any lingering unpleasant taste from the controversy over the date and location of a reception for our Olympic athletes. Pete Taylor, father of Katie, says there never was any row, never any problem.

But the very fact of our splendid successes at London 2012 points up another problem, and one in which Mr Taylor is involved -- albeit in a manner entirely to his credit.

The Olympic Games come round only once in four years. They always provoke sharp reactions, in Ireland more than in most countries: delight at our competitors' achievements, anger because they have not had sufficient opportunity to achieve more. Then we forget it for the next four years.

It takes an effort to remember that in the glamorous track and field events we have won only two medals since 1956. Why? Our population is higher now. Our people have better facilities for improving their health, and better information about the benefits derived from sport. One has to suspect neglect, especially at the highest political level.

The situation is very different, but in its own way more acute, in the case of boxing.

We could not fail to observe the gratifying progress of this sport in two respects, the success of our competitors in Beijing four years ago and the establishment of the High Performance Unit. We built on these factors to such effect that in London the boxers won four of our five medals.

But where are the new contracts for the two men who did most to develop those boxers' skills? The success of the High Performance Unit is due in very large measure to Billy Walsh. Zaur Antia is considered the best coach in the world. Both have been offered jobs abroad.

Do too many cooks spoil the broth? In one way or another, at least three organisations are involved: the Sports Council, the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) and the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA). If that causes any difficulties, it is clearly up to the Government to resolve them through the Sports Council.

It is also the Government's duty to prove genuine and lasting interest, not just lip service, over the next four years. At the very least, it should examine the extraordinary British achievement resulting from intense concentration on certain sports. This has earned Britain nine gold medals in cycling and another nine in rowing.

We are celebrating now. But the best kind of celebration will be in Rio de Janeiro, if we use the next four years right.

Irish Independent

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