Reform package must be put in place to avoid significant cuts in funding
Even before the ballots were counted at the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) EGM in Roscommon , Ciarán Kirwan and Fergal Carruth — the two most powerful figures in Irish boxing — must have known the game was up.
Ostensibly, the purpose of the EGM was to seek the clubs’ approval for the adoption of a set of recommendations concerning the composition of the association’s board of directors. But only two of the dozen-or-so speakers actually addressed the merits of the proposal.
The remainder directed their ire at the chairman of the board and the CEO. The third member of the outgoing leadership triumvirate, president Dominic O’Rourke, couldn’t attend because he was ill.
It was clear that day that delegates had lost faith and trust in the leadership. They were not prepared to work with them any longer and they willingly pressed the nuclear button knowing what the financial consequences were. In the end, there were 80 votes against, 25 vote for. A 75 per cent majority was needed for the reform package to pass. There was a 75 per cent majority — 76 per cent, in fact — but it was against the motion.
The rout of the leadership continued when the long-delayed results of the Central Council executive election were announced. O’Rourke was soundly defeated by Munster branch president Gerry O’Mahony. All the other outgoing officers who had been opposed were defeated — some by narrow margins — but the trend was unmistakable. For better or worse, the grassroots had spoken: they wanted a fresh start under a different leadership.
Kirwan and Carruth could have dug their heels in, so they deserve credit for deciding to quit in the best interests of the association. A sizeable cohort of influential members never accepted the new organisational structure, which was controversially established in 2008, and they were not enamoured with Carruth, Kirwan or O’Rourke.
Now the dissenters have their chance, though one wonders could it be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Though it is a time of great challenge, there is also a unique opportunity for the association to start afresh. They have a clean canvas to work on.
Harsh truths will have to be accepted, however. Taxpayers keep the IABA in existence and although members may rage about the influence of Sport Ireland and the minister, they are going to be overseeing their activities for a long time. Furthermore, there is no going back to the era when teams for international tournaments were selected at Central Council meetings.
Of course, the High Performance Unit (HPU) must be overseen, and it must build better relationships with club coaches and, indeed, be actively involved in tutoring them. But the director of the HPU must have the final say on team selection. This is non-negotiable.
Like it or not, the Brian MacNeice report is the blueprint for the future. Sport Ireland is not going to pay for another report.
But the elected members of the board and the majority of clubs are not against the reform measures proposed in the document. In fact, they would embrace most of them.
The tricky one is the key proposal for the new-look 12-member board with six directors, including the chairman, being appointed by an outside body. The president of the IABA would sit on the board without voting rights.
The rumpus which dominated IABA politics for the last two years was a row over the election of two new directors, so the composition of the board is a sensitive issue,
The first item on the agenda at the next meeting of the board — which now consists of president Gerry O’Mahony, Charlie Toland (Ulster), Ted Barry (Munster), Andrew Duncan (Leinster) and Tom Geraghty (Connacht) — is the election of an interim chairman.
It is not clear whether they have the power to elect a chairman from within their ranks, invite an outsider or whether Sport Ireland will nominate one. The position is key because the new chairman will lead the delegation in talks with Sport Ireland.
The time frame is tight, with Sports Minister Jack Chambers indicating that more significant cuts in funding will be imposed unless the IABA comes up with a reform package by September.
Wise heads are needed now. Otherwise, a golden opportunity to overhaul the organisation could be lost forever.