Friday 24 November 2017

‘I said to Billy in August, ‘The most important thing is that this deal satisfies you... he said, ‘I’m satisfied with the deal’

IABA has copped a lot of flak over coach's exit - now chairman Joe Christle and board member Ciaran Kirwan give their side of the story to Eamon Carr

Ireland boxing coach Billy Walsh
Ireland boxing coach Billy Walsh

Eamonn Carr

Eamon Carr: How did you allow Billy Walsh to leave?

Joe Christle: On February 20 Billy said he'd received an offer from USA Boxing and had gone to see their facilities during the Christmas break and had discussions with them.

He said he'd asked for "crazy money" on the basis that he didn't want to go. He said, "They've come back and offered me the crazy money." He said, "I'd like to see what you guys can do for me." He was open and honest, although we never saw the offer.

He was within his rights. He was looking for an increase in remuneration, not, at that stage, any other non-financial terms.

Our budget was set for the year so we'd have to get on to the Sports Council. He was the highest-paid permanent employee of the IABA. The Sports Council said, "We'll have do everything we can." A series of meetings took places and a number of propositions were put to them.

Initially we were given seven days to get back to him. He extended that by another seven days. Then got an email from him stating, "This is what's required by me to retain my services as head coach." He listed his demands, which were mostly about money.

I said it wasn't going to get past the Board and that we were trying to solve the problem. In fairness to the Sports Council they can't just whip out a cheque book.

The reason for withdrawing anything from the board is so that it's not put to a vote and gets knocked back. If it got knocked back that would prejudice any possibility of a successful outcome.

I'm explaining this to show our bone fides in what we were attempting to do in trying to retain his services, which involved a number of different options, including him becoming a contractor.

Ciaran Kirwan: The concerns of the board from a financial aspect were that Billy was a permanent member of staff whereas most head coaches in almost every other sport would be on a fixed-term contract.

We could have been left with a situation where he would have been earning far in excess of anyone else in our organisation with no comfort for future funding because the Irish Sports Council couldn't guarantee it.

They themselves would have to wait and see what their budget would be from the Minister and Billy would have been entitled to his remuneration until retirement. That would have put the Association in an invidious position.

EC: Negotiations continued for months but there was a last-minute glitch? Is that correct?

JC: The Sports Council had appointed Fergus Barry of the IMI to be Billy's consultant for the purposes of conducting negotiations.

CEO Fergal Carruth, both on his own and with the chief financial officer of the IABA, who's also the HR chief, tried to negotiate various options.

They seemed to be getting nowhere and in August we were called to a meeting to meet Kieran Mulvey and representatives of his board including Bernard Allen and Liam Sheedy.

We all agreed that there were differences between the parties but we all wanted to keep Billy. We had our concerns. The ISC wanted to keep Billy at any cost.

On the IABA side, they wanted to keep him at a reasonable cost, having regard to some serious concerns including our future financial viability.

Kieran Mulvey said he'd broker a deal. This was in August.

EC: The Minister got involved and things appeared to have been sorted?

JC: The Minister said he wanted to see us in Athlone. He said, "I want you to offer Billy Walsh a fixed-term contract and pay him for the change of status."

He also said that the Sports Council recognised that at all levels of the IABA the remuneration is less than other NGBs (national governing bodies for sport).

One of the points we wished to emphasise was that any bonus would not be for one coach but be shared 50/50 with all coaches and boxers. We said we'd sign up to that.

We met up on the Monday and Billy shook my hand. I said to him, "The most important thing is that this deal satisfies you to such a degree that the risk of you going to America is now at an end.

"That's what the IABA and ISC want and that's what the Minister for Sport wants. If it doesn't do that, it's no use to anyone."

He said, "I'm satisfied with the deal."

We sent out a contract within days with all the terms that had been agreed in Athlone.

John Treacy then said, "What about the non-financial aspects of the contract?"

I asked, "What is of difficulty"?

He said, "He doesn't know if he's a leader or not."

I said, "He's called the head coach and he continues to be called the head coach and the staff all report to him and he reports to the chief executive."

Pat Ryan (IABA board member) asked, "John, have all your concerns been addressed by the IABA?" And he said, "Yes."

So we all left believing it's a done deal. The Minister had said he wanted it signed by Friday. There was a meeting of all the coaches called for Tuesday morning to finalise the budget figures.

Billy said he'd be there. He went on with Marian Finnucane on the weekend and then came the shock announcement on Monday morning.

EC: How come the IABA didn't explain what was happening?

JC: We had an obligation to an employee, particularly one who was a friend and a leading colleague, and we didn't think it was appropriate to discuss the terms and conditions in the public domain. We issued a short statement accepting his resignation with regret.

EC: What of claims that he wasn't allowed to pick his team and that he required written permission to speak to the media?

CK: There was a clause in his contract about needing permission to speak to the media and it was there ever since he began his employment with the IABA.

It's in all contracts and it's a prudent clause. Never once was it suggested that he was prevented from speaking to the media. He's the most high-profile member of the IABA.

That clause is perfectly normal and it relates to should an employee talk about issues which were damaging to an association.

Every employer reserves that right. It certainly not intended to prevent him doing his job, which obviously entails interaction with the media.

In relation to the selection of teams, there's been a long-standing policy in the IABA that Billy produced his team which was then put forward for ratification by the Boxing Council.

Never has any member of a team he's selected been de-selected.

There would have been the occasional addition to the team, most notably when Paddy Barnes was added to the team for the World Championships in Chicago and performed brilliantly and qualified for the Beijing Olympics, where he won a medal.

Billy didn't want him on the team. Over the years, the process has proven to have been extremely successful.

EC: In your opinion, is there anything more the ISC could have done, or done better, to have helped save the situation?

CK: As our funder, they have a stake in this. We welcomed their initial involvement. But their public interventions in the media and over the airwaves complicated the issue beyond all belief.

We regarded it as a private issue with one of our employees and we wanted to treat him with the respect and confidentiality in those negotiations.

At no stage did we want to engage in negotiations over the airwaves.

In that regard, we felt that their forceful intervention, and their subsequent interventions after the resignation, and the outrageous unsubstantiated allegations made against us, have only inflamed the matter.

That is why we released a statement.

EC: Is there a concern that the fallout from the Billy Walsh matter could damage the image of amateur boxing administration in Ireland?

CK: We've suffered reputational damage particularly having been on the receiving end of attacks by the Irish Sports Council. They were totally unwarranted.

The saddest thing of all is that it has taken away from the fantastic achievements of our medallists at the World Championships.

For the first time in our history, we've won a men's senior gold medal in the World Championships with Michael Conlan. Joe Ward won silver and Michael O'Reilly won bronze. That's a marvellous achievement and a wonderful story.

Irish Independent

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