Kellie Harrington has thrown her full support behind Bernard Dunne to stay on as high performance director for the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) until the Paris Olympics, following the circulation of an unsigned document earlier this year that was highly critical of Dunne’s performance in the role.
The issue was discussed during a Joint Oireachtas Committee meeting earlier this month, where Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy and IABA Chair Ciarán Kirwan rubbished the document, which was circulated at board level prior to the Tokyo Olympics.
“Being very honest with you, I haven’t read a thing about it,” said Harrington. “That’s not me just pretending because I don’t know what to say, I genuinely haven’t. What I will say, though, is since Bernard has come into high-performance, female boxing has been impacted massively and for all the good.”
In September, Dunne lodged a formal complaint to IABA chief executive Fergal Carruth, naming two members who he alleged undermined his position and tried to discredit his work by sharing a 1500-word ‘SWOT Analysis Position Paper’ with board members and within the boxing community.
At the Oireachtas hearing Kirwan said he had “absolute confidence in Bernard Dunne” and that the IABA was investigating who was behind the document.
After a bitter dispute at board level earlier this year, Dunne was offered a two-year contract as high performance director that’s set to expire 15 months ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024.
While it’s rare for a contract to end midway through an Olympic cycle, a 4-3 vote at boardroom level by the IABA saw it occur in Dunne’s case, which was seen as a compromise for those seeking a much shorter term.
Harrington, who was worked with Dunne since his appointment in 2017, threw her backing behind him to stay the course until 2024.
“I hope that he does still stay involved,” said the Olympic gold medallist. “I can only speak well of Bernard. We do have our tit-for-that moments but we always air them out and he’s a person you can approach. Whatever he does will be right for him, but I hope that we don’t lose him.”
While the IABA endured its share of controversy in recent years, the same is true at international level in amateur boxing, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still deeply concerned about the governance of the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
The AIBA was stripped of its right to organise the boxing tournament at the Tokyo Olympics due to a series of governance, finance and ethical issues, with a Boxing Task Force set up to supervise the sport’s operations at the Games. Boxing’s presence at the Paris Olympics came under further threat following the publication of the McLaren report, which found 11 fights at the Rio Games in 2016 had been manipulated.
IOC President Thomas Bach said a decision will be made as “early as possible” on whether boxing will be part of the 2024 Olympic programme. Harrington said she has “no idea what’s going on” at international level but said she “can’t imagine an Olympics without boxing.”
“All I know is the boxing task force did an absolutely amazing job out in Tokyo and if it continues to go like that then everything will be good,” she said. “There was talk before Tokyo (about boxing being dropped) but when I hear stuff like that, it’s only all hot air being blown. I can’t imagine boxing not being in the Olympics.”
Harrington turned down lucrative offers to turn pro so she could continue in the amateur ranks and her next big target is the women’s world boxing championships in March, which were originally due to be held in December before being postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions. Harrington was relieved at the postponement as she felt “run down” in recent weeks, having jumped back into hard training too quickly following her post-Olympic break.
“I'm going to be 32 soon and your body does need time to recover as well after everything it's been through,” she said. “I'm not getting any younger, it does take time to recover, so it was kind of welcomed.”