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Boxing on the canvas

The IABA have adopted Charlie Haughey's philosophy of "an Irish solution to an Irish problem" in dealing with the urgent matter of senior team selection for the World Championships in Baku next month.

Faced with the dilemma of having a surfeit of talent in a few weight divisions, the Association staged a demanding four-day Open Unseeded Elite Championships across all divisions to determine their first team. With five top boxers unable to compete, the Association created an even bigger problem.

Late on Wednesday evening, after a worrying delay, the IABA finally announced its squad set to fly to Italy today for intensive training camp sessions ahead of next month's tournament, which also acts as an Olympic qualifier. That's the belated good news.

The bad news is that in four weight divisions, the Association has sent two boxers. It's a clear indication that the officials still can't decide on the best team to contest qualification to represent Ireland in London 2012.

Four of these elite boxers will be told tomorrow that they will not be representing their country in Baku next month and won't be on the Olympic team.

Unless, of course, someone gets injured and they stand in at the final qualification tournament next year.

As has been widely reported, the Sports Council-funded IABA has created a mess that is playing havoc with the boxers' preparations ahead of seeking Olympic qualification. When it's obvious that high-performance athletes require every assistance to be at the peak of their game at the right time, the decision-makers in the IABA have inadvertently created a damaging series of obstacles at the most crucial time in the boxers' careers.

As with the GAA, the people who run a nationwide network of amateur boxing clubs are selfless volunteers who place their time, energy and skills at the disposal of the community.


Unfortunately, at a time when our health and education systems are crying out for funding, taxpayers can justly ask if the millions invested by the Sports Council in Irish amateur boxing is being well spent.

Tonight, eight of Ireland's top boxers will arrive in Italy uncertain of their immediate future. Tomorrow, four will be told they're surplus to requirements.

We talk of our boxing team, but this is an individual sport.

You don't call a substitute off the bench at half-time in a bout. Each boxer stands alone.

Some of the squad who are in Italy tonight (and I won't name them here in case selectors claim they're being undisciplined) have described the debacle as either "ridiculous", "a mockery", "unhelpful", "an unnecessary distraction" or "stressful".

These are boxers who are attempting to concentrate on qualifying to represent Ireland in the Olympics.

Surely it's time the Sports Council, who've remained hands-off in this matter, or Minister Varadkar or Minister Ring to insist on a professional, paid management structure being put in place to help ensure our boxers deliver the biggest bang for the taxpayers' buck.


Among those awaiting the crushing disappointment of the IABA Central Council's decision are, at 56kg, John Joe Nevin (Beijing Olympian, current four-times Irish Senior champion and unbeaten by an Irish boxer for seven years) and Tyrone McCullagh (recent Open Championship winner but beaten 5-2 by Nevin in the Senior final in February).

At 64kg there's current Senior champion Ross Hickey, who was voted Boxer of the Tournament at the Elite Finals in February and who won impressively at last week's box-offs, and Ray Moylette, who took his place in the European Championships, won gold and would be seeded in the Worlds.

At 75kg Darren O'Neill is current Senior champion, while Jason Quigley won the Open Championship in O'Neill's absence but was beaten 7-4 by O'Neill in the Senior finals.

At 69kg the choice will be either Roy Sheehan (St Michael's Athy) or Willie McLaughlin (Illies GG).

Like cardinals electing a new Pontiff, the Senior Council meet tomorrow to decide on a team. In Italy, head coach Billy Walsh will be the one who has to deal with the fallout.

Grassroots boxing supporters and club members lament the potentially damaging uncertainty created by their own officials.