Monday 19 August 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'The decision handing Katie Taylor a points victory over Delfine Persoon was a spectacular injustice'

Katie Taylor is announced victorious by referee Sparkle Lee after her Undisputed Female World Lightweight Championship fight with Delfine Persoon at Madison Square Garden in New York, USA. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Katie Taylor is announced victorious by referee Sparkle Lee after her Undisputed Female World Lightweight Championship fight with Delfine Persoon at Madison Square Garden in New York, USA. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Anthony Joshua was unlucky he didn’t have the judges from the Katie Taylor fight. They’d probably have said he stopped Andy Ruiz Jr in the seventh rather than the other way round.

The decision handing Taylor a points victory over Delfine Persoon was a spectacular injustice. Carl Frampton got it right when stating, “The judges have got it wrong. It is heartbreaking to see Delfine Persoon in tears. I thought she won that fight by miles and it was a disgraceful decision.”

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Former world heavyweight champion David Haye concurred: “That is not the sight you want to see where someone has given everything in the gym, but they do not get the decision because of the political power.”

Robberies are not unknown in boxing. Just three weeks ago Irish super welterweight Dennis Hogan was denied a WBO title he’d won fair and square when the decision went to home favourite Jaime Munguia in Mexico. Gennady Golovkin looked to have won both of his middleweight title bouts against Canelo Alvarez only for the first to be declared a draw and the second called for his opponent.

In all cases the dodgy decision favoured the fighter with the greater drawing power. The same thing happened on Saturday night. As the great white hope of women’s boxing, Taylor possesses infinitely more financial potential than her 34-year-old Belgian opponent. Persoon could probably only have won by knocking her out.

It's ironic that a fight billed as 'history making' because it offered an Irish fighter the opportunity to become an undisputed champion ended with a decision which could hardly have been more disputable.

Taylor loyalists took refuge in formulations of the 'well you could kind of see how if they were looking at in a certain way they could have called it for her' variety or suggested, like promoter Eddie Hearn, that while she might not have won maybe it was a draw. But there’s no denying what happened.

Some Irish media outlets have tried to skim over the truth, adopting a 'don’t mention the war' attitude to the controversial nature of the decision.

It's like they regard the sporting public as a small child who must be shielded from the true fate of a beloved pet by being told he’s gone to live on a farm.

Others have suggested the injustice can be rectified by Persoon being offered a rematch. But a rematch won’t alter the disgraceful nature of Saturday night’s verdict. Should Taylor win a second fight between the pair it won’t mean she won the first one.

When the dust from the Madison Square Garden Heist has settled, I predict the Irish attitude will be that these things happen in sport and ‘your wan’ should take her beating.

This would be fair enough if we took the same laissez-faire view when the boot is on the other foot. But we don’t, do we? Michael Conlan’s loss to Vladimir Nikitin at the 2016 Olympics was treated as proving that not only was amateur boxing irredeemably corrupt, but there had been a conspiracy specifically targeting Irish boxers.

There was general agreement with Conlan that the Olympics might be better off without a sport where such terrible things could happen.

The Thierry Henry handball not only led to protests outside the French embassy in Dublin, but demands that the whole structure of the World Cup be changed to redress an injustice we believed should outrage everyone everywhere. Neil Back’s sleight of hand for Leicester against Munster in the Heineken Cup final fuelled a decade’s worth of whinging.

There's a self-righteousness about the Irish attitude to such incidents. We pretend our ire has less to do with partisan considerations than with a disinterested love of fair play.

So we feel free to berate our nearest neighbours for their jingoism. What’s wrong with the Brits, we wonder, that they don’t ask the hard questions of Mo Farah and that they continue to celebrate the victories of their dodgy cyclists?

But we're no more immune from blind partisanship than any other country. I’m sure back in 2016 there were Yuris and Borises arguing that if you looked at the fight in a certain kind of way you could kind of see how they called it for Vladimir.

We're always hearing, often from someone trying to defend the indefensible, that Ireland is a nation of begrudgers. Irish people are forever being enjoined to believe that something terrible is actually great if looked at with the proper positive attitude.

Remember how during The Crash politicians exhorted pundits to pull on the green jersey and stop talking down the economy? Remember the visit of Bertie Ahern to the House of Commons, a soon to be disgraced politician visiting an institution disgraced a long time ago, being hailed as a history making source of pride?

Remember Eamon Dunphy being vilified in 1990 by people furious that he wouldn’t just get with the programme and chant 'we're all part of Jackie's Army?' Remember Michelle Smith hanging her gold medal round the neck of Gay Byrne on the Late Late and interviewers saying things like, ‘there are allegations against you but I won’t dignify them by mentioning them?’

The passage of time makes it easy to pretend you’d have been fearlessly on the side of truth back then. But if you're going to claim that Katie Taylor won fair and square on Saturday night and there’s nothing to see here, it's pretty clear where you'd have stood on those other questions.

It's easy to be brave in hindsight and even easier to call out foreign countries for their mindless chauvinism while excusing our own.

If you want to pull on the green jersey go ahead. Knock yourself out. It feels comfortable and you’ll fit right in with everyone else wearing it. Just don’t look in the mirror.

Because Saturday night's decision did to sporting justice what a Leinster rugby player might do to your leg.

As the great white hope of women's boxing, Katie Taylor possesses infinitely more financial potential than Persoon.

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