Thursday 26 April 2018

Boxing: Gloves are off after boxing's points win

John Greene

John Greene

THE uneasy peace between the Irish Sports Council and the Irish Amateur Boxing Association appears to be creaking.

This week, the best pound-for-pound female fighter in the world, Katie Taylor, leads a four-strong Irish team at the World Women's Championships in Barbados. Taylor (pictured) is bidding to win her third world lightweight title in a row.

The team is accompanied by director of boxing Dominic O'Rourke. This has not gone down well at the ISC, which wanted a role in selecting who should attend the event. It was even reported last week that the sports council insists there is no funding provision for O'Rourke to travel.

Last April, the IABA appointed O'Rourke as head of its High Performance Unit, overlooking the obvious claims of Billy Walsh, who had come into the public consciousness for the role he played in Ireland's boxers winning three medals at the Beijing Olympics.

The decision raised eyebrows in many quarters yet despite the ISC's threat to withhold funding for the position, and that of CEO, the IABA stood its ground.

On the face of it, this was an embarrassing stand-off between what is currently Ireland's most successful sport internationally and its paymasters at the sports council.

In the last seven years, the IABA can point to a haul of 103 medals won in international competition -- from schoolboy to Olympic level -- as a measure of its work. Since winning those three medals at the last Olympics, when Gary Keegan headed up the HP Unit, boxing has not stood still. Ryan Burnett has just won a gold medal at the Youth Olympics and there were also five medals last May in the European Championships in Moscow.

Keegan's move to the Institute of Sport after Beijing left Walsh as the de facto head of the HP unit, hence the widespread surprise when he was leapfrogged by O'Rourke.

Walsh's credentials for the post were undoubtedly impeccable, but O'Rourke is also a highly respected figure in the sport with an excellent track record in coaching.

However, it was not until the end of July that a resolution of sorts was hit upon -- and then only after mediation. O'Rourke was given the title director of boxing, to include responsibility for overall national development, and Walsh was officially named as high performance coach.

Furthermore, as part of that settlement, it was agreed that a five-person committee -- two from the sports council, two from the IABA and an independent chairperson -- would meet to formulate a five-year plan for Irish boxing. Despite the latest tensions, that meeting will take place later this month.

This was a victory of sorts for the IABA. The boxing association, a company limited by guarantee and with its own board, is determined that it must run its own affairs; that it knows what's best for Irish boxing.

The dispute between the two bodies first came into the public domain just weeks after the sports council's disastrous four-day outing in the High Court which left it and Athletics Ireland clutching a hefty legal bill. The case, brought by the AI's former chief executive Mary Coghlan, was essentially about the level of interference in AI affairs by the council and, given the outcome of the settlement, there was a degree of optimism that the ISC could move forward on the basis of enjoying healthier relationships with those associations it funds.

The fact that this impasse developed so quickly dispelled such optimism.

To have two men now of the calibre of Walsh and O'Rourke at the head of Irish boxing can only be a good thing, but the fact that they are there only following a process of mediation speaks volumes for the problems at the heart of Irish sport.

In essence, the ISC has consistently eschewed collaboration in favour of control and this has fostered mistrust and animosity. The IABA is one association which decided to assert its independence, others may soon follow.

Sunday Independent

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