Sunday 26 January 2020

Vincent Hogan: IABA must treat Taylor as a person - not a commodity

Maybe Katie Taylor is just too good to be true. It could be that her talents spin too many illusions for us to actually understand what she's about. We see her almost as someone who was found at the end of a rainbow, wearing glass slippers. Her life is a nursery rhyme to us.

Routinely, she flies home from obscure locations, gold bullion around her neck, and the spectacle seems almost humdrum. Katie competes; Katie wins. Night follows day. She has a smile as sweet as a banana split and her manner is so ladylike, so gentle, you'd swear she was reared in a library. So, we don't really think too deeply about what it is she does.

But Katie boxes. She hits and gets hit. She gets intimate with pain.

Not many of us, admittedly, have seen much of this, because her four European titles and two Worlds have, by and large, been won out of general view. Katie's greatness, thus, might as well be a rumour to most of Ireland. We're more familiar with her in Dublin Airport's arrivals hall than in an actual ring.

This must be frustrating to one of the most gifted Irish sports people alive. It's as if we're asking her to hold her breath until London 2012, at which point, suddenly, we'll all start crowding her like she's a Hollywood actress with time to kill. At the very moment she most needs her privacy, we'll be doing our damnedest to deny it.


So you can sympathise with her father, Pete, in his on-going row with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA). I suspect that the biggest buzz Katie has got in boxing so far was the response of the Point Depot crowd last March when she fought on the under-card of Bernard Dunne's WBA title-fight with Ricardo Cordoba.

It was the first time in Ireland that a professional and amateur show ran in tandem and the Brian Peters Promotion proved a resounding success.

Yet, the pro-am concept doesn't sit easy with many in the amateur game. They see it as exploitative, a cherry-picking of funded boxers to bolster the profile of an often mediocre professional under-card. Take Dunne out of the equation and the Irish pro game right now lacks major box office talent.

So, Katie's pro-am appearances made sense to both parties. To Peters, because she added authentic glamour to the bill. To the Taylors, because fighting in a packed O2 with a live TV audience offered her a profile appropriate to her talent. Furthermore, Peters could point to the fact that both the IABA and Katie's club benefited financially from her appearances in a pro-am.

Yet, the sums involved were modest, three-figure outlays. Symbolic gestures essentially.

On Saturday, the IABA's Central Council chose not to make any hard and fast decision on the future of pro-ams, which was probably just as well. Yet, they continue to deny Katie permission to box on Peters' next show, scheduled for February 13. This has infuriated Pete Taylor, who sees his daughter as the helpless pawn in a political game.

Indeed, the idea of the IABA playing some kind of financial hard-ball with a third party for access to Katie has touched a pretty raw nerve. After all, the Association has been largely inconspicuous for any of Katie's 21 gold medal tournament wins over the last five years.

Pete reckons that they see his daughter as some kind of 'bounty'. This is probably unfair, yet not entirely surprising.

Boxing's High Performance Programme may be a crown jewel of Irish sport, but, sometimes, it seems to exist in a parallel world to the IABA, under whose auspices it is run. Together, they get by. But there are identifiable tensions in the relationship, little wrinkles in the canvas.

One is modern, ambitious and relentlessly pro-active, the other cautious, untrusting and committee-bound.

The abysmal treatment of Gary Keegan at the Beijing Games (the High Performance Director was pointedly omitted from IABA nominations for Olympic accreditation) spoke of a philosophical gulf between the two. Now the Taylors' frustration seems to re-affirm it.

Last week, Pete Taylor indicated that he was in discussion with promoters in the US, Germany and the UK with a possible view to Katie forfeiting her Olympic dream and turning pro. This would be a shocking outcome to the current row. Katie, after all, was the poster girl of the campaign to get Olympic status for women's boxing.

Her whole life virtually has been predicated on an ambition to make that journey.

She is well funded by the Irish Sports Council, yet her career is mined with unseen pressures.

Actually, if she does go to the London Games (and, remember, she must pre-qualify), Katie's most treacherous opponent won't be Russian or Chinese. It will probably be you. And me.

It will be every even mildly interested Irish man or woman who has bought into the notion that she is somehow bomb-proof the moment she climbs between the ropes. Have you ever been punched in the face?

Exactly how bomb-proof did it make you feel?

Pete Taylor, you suspect, sees all of these pressures begin to crowd around Katie now and wonders if people maybe mistake his daughter for a cartoon. If, maybe, the IABA sees her as a commodity, not a person. It's a little hard to blame him.

Remember, in nursery rhymes, noses don't get broken.

Irish Independent

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