Broadhurst and O’Rourke are a credit to their families and their county but their success doesn’t excuse sports officials for their entrenched self-interest
There is a quiet, defiant voice that keeps speaking up in Irish boxing.
It rose out of Istanbul on Thursday evening through the courage and ring craft of Amy Broadhurst and Lisa O’Rourke, our newly crowned world champions. Two women whose lives – let’s be very clear on this – are not about to change in any profound way (albeit Lisa can at least expect to get on the funding ladder now).
True, flashbulbs will pop in the arrivals’ hall at Dublin Airport this evening and there must, in time, be the obligatory Late Late Show appearance. But, soon after, the message from mainstream media will again be that, well, boxing exists out on the margins of national interest.
In other words, until the next Olympics, we have more pressing places to be.
In the meantime, it will remain a sport making more headlines for the death of the professional game here because of a gang feud and for amateur boxing’s morbid administrative disorders than it will for the kind of communities that care for and nurture exemplary young women like Broadhurst and O’Rourke.
Boxing is full of good people. It is full of small halls keeping kids out of harm’s way, full of intimate stories resonating with feelings of place and belonging and a communal will to make young lives better.
You got a sense of that inherent decency listening to, first, Tony Broadhurst and then his daughter on Morning Ireland yesterday, the innate humility borne of relentless hard work and sacrifice.
But it is also betrayed by so many in power, also disfigured by the politics of entrenched self-interest. Bernard Dunne was one of the key people in transitioning Broadhurst and O’Rourke to the level delivering Thursday’s gold-rush in Istanbul, having brought both to Japan for Ireland’s pre-Olympic training camp last summer.
Yet, Dunne – like Gary Keegan and Billy Walsh before him – has been forced out of the sport here by some of the very people you will see smiling alongside our new world champions this coming week.
The need for Irish boxing to undergo profound structural reconstruction is not diminished one iota by this story. On the contrary, it should gather extra force and pungency in its reminder of the sport’s capacity to lose good people overboard.
Sport Ireland continues to whistle bullets over the heads of those running the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, but that noise has – long since – acquired the air of someone just passing time with an AK47 shooting tin cans.
It may seem an academic point, but – ultimately – it is the boxers who will suffer from any withdrawal of funding to the sport. And it isn’t in the small halls and gyms and makeshift rings where dysfunction reigns today.
It endures in the parallel world of administration.
In the meantime, both Amy and Lisa have decisions to make now.
Neither has been boxing in an Olympic weight category so any thoughts of Paris 2024 must come franked with plans to move up or down.
Broadhurst, a natural lightweight, currently boxes at light-welter, a pragmatic choice given that reigning Olympic champion, Kellie Harrington, is now dominant at her preferred weight, just as 2012 champion, Katie Taylor, was before her.
With, potentially, no boxing at all in Los Angeles 2028, what does Amy do?
The lure of the professional game has, probably, never been greater given Taylor’s recent epic against Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden, a fight for which she flew southpaw, Broadhurst, to her base in Connecticut for sparring.
Possibilities for female professional boxers have seldom looked more compelling, given Taylor and Serrano both walked away from that fight with seven-figure purses.
But the successes of Broadhurst and O’Rourke this week remind us too of how Irish boxing still benefits from the matchless wisdom of coach Zaur Antia – the one, enduring survivor in that High Performance unit since its establishment in 2003.
Those who work with him describe the Georgian as a genius, yet the stories he could tell of working in the shadow of relentless crisis.
Istanbul reminded us this week that boxing remains a sport we still do better than most.
But Broadhurst and O’Rourke will soon know too that the celebrity of this moment is fleeting, the interest of the nation transient. They are a credit to their families and communities and good luck to them.
But keep a wary eye on those grasping Kodak moments by their shoulders.