Monday 18 December 2017

Explained: The Billy Walsh/IABA row and what happens next

Billy Walsh
Billy Walsh
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

The shock resignation of Billy Walsh has led to a huge reaction and an ultimatum from the Irish Sports Council to the IABA. Here is how the saga unfolded.

Who is Billy Walsh?

Until this week, Billy Walsh was the head coach of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association's (IABA)High Performance Unit, established in 2002 to improve standards in Irish boxing.

He, along with Gary Keegan, the first director and coach Zaur Anti, have transformed structures and performances among Irish boxers.

What has the High Performance Unit achieved?

A considerable amount from the starting base 13 years ago and a steady improvement along the way.

Andy Lee, now WBO World middleweight champion, was the only Irish boxer to qualify for the 2004 Olympics, while Katie Taylor secured European Elite gold a year later and then claimed her first World Elite in 2006.

2007 marked a major breakthrough for the High Performance Unit, with three gold and two silver medals claimed at the European Union Championships in Dublin.

A year later, Kenny Egan, Darren Sutherland and Paddy Barnes won Ireland's only medals - one silver and two bronze - at the Beijing Olympics. At the 2012 Olympics in London, Taylor won gold, Nevin took silver, with Barnes and Michael Conlan taking bronze.

This year's Men's World Elite Championships was Walsh's crowning glory, with Conlan winning our first gold and Joe Ward and Michael O'Reilly silver and bronze respectively.

Why has Walsh resigned?

Walsh has been in negotiations for over eight months with regards to new terms and condition for a new contract after USA boxing association made a lucrative offer for his services. The Irish Sports Council had '20 to 30' interventions according to chief executive John Tracey, but ultimately an agreement could not be found.

The head coach reluctantly resigned on Monday, admitting it was the hardest decision of his professional life.

"I spent a lot of time crying this morning around this decision, but I think for the best of my health, for my future, it's the best way for me to move on," he said.

"I went back time after time to try and make this work. For my own dignity and respect I felt I couldn't stoop any lower."

Is the row over money?

While the American offer, which Walsh is expected to officially sign this weekend, was a lucrative one, it appears that the issues were not monetary related.

"Billy Walsh showed incredible flexibility around the financial aspects. He agreed to leave his full-time position in the AIBA and become a contractor," John Tracey publicly stated.

What are the "non-financial" reasons for resigning?

It appears that Walsh was unhappy with some of the conditions of the role, including having to contact the board over team selection.

"Imagine Joe Schmidt being told he had to contact Philip Browne [IRFU chief executive] every time he selected a team or made a decision or talked to the media,” chairman of the Irish Sports Council Kieran Mulvey said at this morning's Oireachtas Sports Committee.

What has the fall-out been?

Condemnation for the IABA and public shock at the departure. Katie Taylor, Paddy Barnes, Darren O'Neill and Bernard Dunne are just some within the boxing community who have supported Walsh and lamented the course of events.

John Joe Nevin has said the IABA should be 'shamed' after Walsh's departure.

The Irish Sports Council, who fund the IABA have been scathing. Chief executive John Tracey has said that the way Walsh has been treated has been "humiliating", while chief executive Mulvey last night gave the IABA 24-hours to "rethink" their decision or risk losing funding for 2016.

Speaking to the Dail Committee this morning, he was scathing of the IABA.

"We pay the chief executive [Fergal Carruth, brother of 1992 Olympic gold medallist Michael Carruth], we pay other administrative staff and I’m not happy. I’m not happy how the chief executive has performed on this matter and I’m saying it bluntly here and that will be reviewed."

What has the IABA said?

In short, very little. They released a statement Monday saying they were " deeply disappointed" to lose Walsh, but stated that it had "done its utmost" to retain his services.

Since then they have made no further public statements.

What will happen next?

The IABA are expected to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow morning to discuss the issue.

Is there any way the issue can be resolved?

"I don't give up until the fat lady sings," Mulvey said today and the threat of cutting funding is a serious threat that the IABA will have to consider. Walsh has not hidden his desire to remain in Ireland and has the backing of his boxers and the Sports Council.

He is due to depart for America tomorrow, but there is still a glimmer of hope.

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