Saturday 16 February 2019

Ewan MacKenna: MTK's attitude might scream they're better than you, but they're surely due a look in the mirror

The MTK media ban in the Republic of Ireland has been lifted, but new CEO Bob Yalen (inset) refused an interview
The MTK media ban in the Republic of Ireland has been lifted, but new CEO Bob Yalen (inset) refused an interview
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

So this is what the end of a media ban looks and sounds and feels like.

Go onto Twitter, click their official feed and what comes up on the screen is not openness, rather, "You are blocked from following @MTKGlobal and viewing @MTKGlobal's Tweets".

Email them about the possibility of talking to stated CEO Sandra Vaughan - the person responsible for that Fair News campaign that tried to blame and alienate Republic of Ireland journalists for doing their jobs -  and, unfortunately, MTK inform: "Vaughan does not speak directly with press."

It's quite an attitude for someone who for so long tried to dictate to an entire national press.

Consider fighters like Carl Frampton, who epitomised how the sport traversed peace walls; like Paddy Barnes, who couldn't but be admired as he fought to make sure he didn't lose again when most thought him a winner already; like Michael Conlan, who is perhaps the most talented boxer from here we've ever seen in our lifetimes.

Ask to interview Bob Yalen, who has taken over as president of the entire MTK empire and, while early signs and replies are promising, in the end, it's a refusal.

"He is leaning more towards doing one interview with international press and then issuing a statement to other media," they say. When pushed to break this down, they kindly add: "What we mean is just one interview with a global media outlet rather than a national one so as to best utilize Bob's time."

That's interesting.

For Ireland was plenty worthy of their time when, at the very least, the foundations their company has been built atop were put in place around Daniel Kinahan's vast resources. For Ireland was plenty worthy of their time when it was able to get their attention via the reporting of uncomfortable facts and reality.

Being wrong is at one level. Doing wrong is at another.

However, there's nothing like trying to cover-up both of those wrongs with hypocrisy. MTK's attitude might scream they're better than you, but they're surely due a look in the mirror.

It's their right not to talk, we get that. But it's our right to delve and to insist on the truth in such a grim and grimy area. You can't lie with dogs, scratch, and expect no one to bring up fleas. And don't think this is about journalistic access as instead it's a microcosm of an attitude that's gone from nasty to smug.

We've been here before, but they keep adding new chapters. That makes it worth revisiting for as much as they try and bury the past, it keeps crawling to the surface. Take last week as more of the same.

On the same day as the Regency Hotel shooting anniversary, and with Tyson Fury, who is under their umbrella, set to speak in DCU and then the Cork Opera House, it had to be pulled. The college campus was hit with graffiti about MTK with sources suggesting that Hutch gang connections were behind this, as well as the phone call that threatened yet more repercussions if their events were to go ahead.

Their softly-softly media strategy is obvious - one that previously saw Vaughan do an interview to a nodding Kugan Cassius of IFL TV, a man who regularly wears MTK attire, and who had his channel put on their payroll. But it's also a flawed strategy of believing that if they ignore it, then it will somehow go away. Silence and a vacuum are two very different concepts. Nothing can exist in the latter, but in the former questions arise such as those to do with Daniel Kinahan's place behind the scenes right up to this day.

Back in October, as Yalen was brought in to lead this organisation he noted, "I am both honoured and excited to assume this position at MTK Global. Sandra Vaughan and her group have built an extremely impressive company and I am looking forward to working with everyone at MTK Global to expand the brand as well as to expand the services offered to its rapidly growing clientele roster".

We are used to corporate speak and marketing drivel but this was strange. Previously a director at the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, a producer at ABC and NBC Sports, a director in programming at ESPN, and a technical director of the WBC, between his media and sporting past he ought to know the baggage here. Thus, if he cannot face up to perceptions, they will never change.

Nor should they.

Back here, MTK's past actions have meant that Irish pro boxing has never been in as rancid a state as of late. Imagine any other sport where stakeholders are actually scared to talk about what goes on for fear of reprisal. That's what MTK brought and if that's not a fair reflection of the present, it's a memory of a past they refuse to address. For shame.

Indeed last week, as they ended their ban on Republic journalists, two thoughts occurred.

Firstly was the deflection, as if this could draw memories and gazes away from the Regency.

Second was the pompous nerve as if everyone should now rush back as their forgiveness was what was key. What's forgotten here is they were in the wrong and they still very much are.

Outlets like The Late Late Show might have come crawling back in an instant, lazily and disgracefully offering publicity while refusing to touch on any of this. But morality can't be about a crusade for a set period before finding what next will bring about outrage. It's why 11 months ago we raised some important questions that needed clarifying.

With no answers, during the week we again put them to the boxing management company:

Why were MTK surprised by the tone coming from Ireland, given MTK's past links and the lack of clarification around the present?

Why did MTK see media doing their job with information we did have, and with no more forthcoming from MTK, as a reason to ban us?

Why was this media ban solely in the Republic given how boxing has long been a uniting force on an island split by a bloody border?

Why did those over the company take jobs there given proven links in the past to a criminal empire?

Why would they want to grow a company, given the name it developed through incidents in and away from boxing, rather than starting a new one from scratch?

Where did the money come from to build up MTK?

A reply came back reading: "We will put these questions to Bob [Yalen] and endeavour to have them addressed in his statement."

Now that their ban is officially over, maybe they might take a moment to clarify these pressing issues.

If not, then it's not them that should be starting and ending boycotts.

As a nation, given what this is tangled up in, it's us that should be keeping our distance.

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