Monday 23 April 2018

Funding cut a wake-up call for boxing

The IABA has been split into two factions
The IABA has been split into two factions

Cathal Dennehy

A fundamental wake-up call - that was the scathing assessment of Irish boxing at the 2016 Olympic Games, a critique delivered in the 'Rio Review', which was unveiled yesterday by Sport Ireland and is, at 212 pages, ironically long enough to put people to sleep.

While some national federations relied on athlete surveys, the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) was more thorough in its post-mortem, commissioning an advisory firm specialising in high performance to explain the unravelling of its eight boxers in Rio.

At 20 pages, their verdict isn't quite worthy of a Dostoyevsky novel, but after studying its contents the IABA will know all about crime and punishment.

Because along with having their errors outlined in grisly detail, they also felt the full force of their transgressions yesterday as Sport Ireland dropped the guillotine on their high performance funding, cut to €700,000, a reduction of €200,000 since last year.

"We're in the business of funding national governing bodies that set targets and deliver," said Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy. "It's clear they didn't deliver."

A litany of explanations are offered in the report, such as disciplinary issues, an unacceptable choice of accommodation at the pre-Games training camp in Brazil, along with the disruption caused by Irish boxer Michael O'Reilly - who tested positive in a drugs test on the eve of the Games - not being removed from the Olympic village for several days.

The most impactful error, however, was reported to be the absence of a full-time performance director both before and after the departure of Billy Walsh in 2015.

While technical guru Zaur Antia stepped in as interim head coach, the report notes he became over-stretched, which led to the standards and culture in the programme becoming "gradually eroded".

A list of 30 recommendations was put forward to steer Irish boxing back towards the podium, the key one being for the IABA to appoint an experienced and qualified high performance director, something Treacy believes is vital.

"We have to make sure we have the right leadership," he said. "We fully support the reform they're implementing. If they kick on and win medals, we'll adjust (their funding) again.

Eight months on from his positive drugs test, we still await an outcome in O'Reilly's doping case. Though it is believed that the substance involved is performance-enhancing, Sport Ireland yesterday declined to offer any details.

"It's still going through a process," said Treacy. "We will reveal the substance once that process is completed."

Sport Ireland's overall investment of €20m across the national governing bodies is in line with 2016 figures, though chairman Kieran Mulvey appealed yesterday to Minister for Tourism and Sport, Patrick Donovan, to increase investment in sport.

"We have funding issues, Minister, and as we've emerged from the recession and the pressures on our economy, we need to restore funding to sport," he said. "We've taken a hit and despite the hit, we've delivered nationally and internationally."

Irish Independent

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