Monday 20 November 2017

Irish franchise hopes fade

Joe Ward has qualified for the Rio team, but not through the WSB Photo:Sportsfile
Joe Ward has qualified for the Rio team, but not through the WSB Photo:Sportsfile

Bernard O'Neill

Calls for an Irish World Series of Boxing (WSB) franchise have receded given that the new season starts next weekend and the WSB Olympic Games qualifiers will be completed in May.

But with 17 Rio places directly available - and a further 26 berths indirectly - an investment in an Irish WSB side for Tokyo 2020 would undoubtedly be a boost for the sport which has claimed seven of our eight medals in all sports from the last two Olympics.

Three of the four Irish boxers already qualified for Rio 2016 - Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Steven Donnelly - have booked tickets through the WSB. Conlan also qualified through AIBA Open Boxing (AOB) - as did Joe Ward - courtesy of winning gold at the AIBA World Elite Championships. However, Conlan qualified through the WSB first.

Meanwhile, with four over the line into Rio, Irish boxing will be targeting another nine berths through the WSB, AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) and AOB between now and June. The first of those tournaments is for men and women in Istanbul in April, where Olympic lightweight champion Katie Taylor will be targeting her second successive Olympics. Taylor and women's boxing - which is restricted to three Olympic weights, get a second shot in May at the World Championships in Kazakhstan. Taylor will be aiming for a sixth consecutive gold medal in Central Asia.

The WSB and APB meet in a qualifier in Sofia, Bulgaria the same month, and the final qualifier for men is in Baku, Azerbaijan in June.

"Irish boxing is looking forward to a very exciting time. We have very tough tests ahead of us, but we are confident," said Irish interim head coach Zuar Antia.

So far, 60 boxers have qualified for Rio. Russia leads the way on eight, with Cuba on seven. Ireland, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are in joint third spot with four.

Ireland leads the way for western Europe with four over the line. Barnes, Conlan and Donnelly secured three of those places after travelling about 50,000 miles into three continents boxing for Italian and Polish WSB sides under Irish coaches John Conlan and Eddie Bolger.

If there was an Irish WSB it would further enhance our prospects for Tokyo 2020. At the very least our 'wild geese' would be afforded the luxury of fighting at home with Irish fans behind them.

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