Saturday 17 March 2018

Medal hopeful Michael O'Reilly set to appeal over positive result in drugs test

Humiliation for Ireland on the eve of Olympics as boxer suspended after drugs test

Gold medallists Michael O’Reilly and Katie Taylor are greeted by fans in Dublin Airport on their return from the 2015 European Games. Photo: Cody Glenn / Sportsfile
Gold medallists Michael O’Reilly and Katie Taylor are greeted by fans in Dublin Airport on their return from the 2015 European Games. Photo: Cody Glenn / Sportsfile

Ryan Nugent and Jane O'Faherty

Ireland's Olympic team is in crisis after one of its boxing stars tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Michael O'Reilly (23), who is from Clonmel in Tipperary, was dramatically suspended from the Olympic Games last night after test results allegedly found a banned substance in his system.

Sports bosses and Government figures are engaged in crisis talks in a bid to contain what is a major humiliation for Ireland on the eve of the Rio Games.

Read More: Kenneth Egan: It would be tragic if people were to start doubting Irish boxing

And the news of the athlete's suspension is particularly embarrassing for Sports Minister Shane Ross, who this week released a press statement in which he said that he hopes Irish athletes will perform in a "doping-free environment".

Sources have confirmed that O'Reilly - who was due to compete in the middleweight event - was tested prior to his departure for Rio.

Ireland’s Michael O’Reilly poses with his gold medal after winning the men’s middleweight event at the European Games in Baku in June 2015. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland’s Michael O’Reilly poses with his gold medal after winning the men’s middleweight event at the European Games in Baku in June 2015. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

The test was carried out by an official working for Dr Una May, who is head of anti-doping at the Irish Sports Council.

Read more: O'Reilly defiant but facing Rio expulsion

Dr May contacted John Treacy, chief executive of the Irish Sports Council and informed him that O'Reilly had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Mr Treacy yesterday phoned the chairman of Sport Ireland, Kieran Mulvey, who sources say was "taken aback" by the news of O'Reilly's test result.

Mr Treacy also phoned Mr Ross, who is currently holidaying in France, before his scheduled trip to Rio for the opening ceremony.

When contacted by the Irish Independent, Mr Treacy declined to comment.

Sources confirmed last night that the boxer, who fights out of Portlaoise Boxing Club, is likely to appeal and have the 'B' sample tested.

There was some relief the test was not taken while O'Reilly was in Brazil - as this would have raised questions about access to performance-enhancing substances.

A source said the positive test vindicates the testing procedure in Ireland. "It shows the system works," the source said.

Sport Ireland has a mobile phone app for athletes and their coaches that lists banned substances. Any ingredient in food, drink or supplements can be checked.

"There is no room for error," a source said.

The boxing world was last night in shock following the news. Olympic gold medallist Michael Carruth said he is in "total disbelief".

"Whatever punch I've ever been hit with in my life, it was nothing like today. "We've never seen it coming, none of us. It's not in our sport really," he told the Irish Independent.

"When have you ever heard of an Irish boxer failing a drugs test. For me, absolute shock and a big amount of disappointment. It's surreal, you could never fathom that.

"They're stringently tested and they know the dos and dont's...If they feel anything they are putting in is untoward they can ask advice."

He added: "If he didn't know what he was putting in, then he should have got it checked out and if he did we have zero tolerance for people who take drugs.

"We want clean athletes and this is our sport and for this to happen it's an absolute shock."

Read more: Irish boxer Michael O'Reilly posts bizarre tweet following alleged failed drugs test

Boxer Conor Wallace (20), who was defeated by O'Reilly in the qualifiers for the Olympic team, also expressed his shock.

"I was terribly surprised to be hearing it. I like Michael O'Reilly as a person. I don't want to say anything bad about him," Newry native Wallace said. "I'm raging to have come so close to competing in Rio. I would have given anything to have been in the Olympic Games."

In a statement, the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) said it was notified by the Irish Sports Council of an alleged violation of the Irish anti-doping rules: "In following the strict procedures applying to an adverse analytical finding, the athlete in question has been informed and is provisionally suspended. The boxer can request to have a 'B' sample tested but cannot participate in any competition or activity prior to the completion of an investigation under Article 8 of the Irish anti-doping rules," the statement read.

"The Irish Athletic Boxing Association has always maintained a zero tolerance approach to doping and Irish boxing has been one of the most widely tested sports by the National Anti-Doping Programme over the last number of years."

Speaking to the Irish Independent in Dublin Airport before he flew to Brazil, O'Reilly said he and the team were "raring to go".

"I'm hoping to go and bring back a medal and I'm very, very confident that I will," he said.

Asked about his preparations for Rio, O'Reilly said: "Keep yourself safe, and keep the hands wrapped up".

Special talent whose dreams are in tatters

Michael O'Reilly was recognised as a special talent inside the ring from the moment he first laced a pair of boxing gloves. He won his first European gold medal when he was only 13. But his career has been laced with controversy as well. Born in Clonmel in March, 1993, O'Reilly lives in Portlaoise where he learned his boxing with the local club. A member of the Travelling Community, he has a young son and a daughter.

In 2011 he was disciplined by the IABA and dropped from the Irish youth team which was due to compete in the European Youth Championships.

However, O'Reilly took a High Court action against the decision by the IABA and was restored to the team and went on to win a silver medal at the tournament. Indeed, he was deemed to have been 'robbed' in the tournament.

When he graduated to the senior ranks he made an immediate impact winning a silver medal at the European Union championships in 2014 when again he was deemed unlucky not to get the decision in the final.

But he came of age as an elite boxer at the European Games in Baku last year in early summer when he won middleweight gold, earning him a spot at the world championships in Doha in autumn.


Again he excelled at the World event securing a bronze medal before losing by Bektemir Melikuziev from Uzbekistan in the semi-final. He subsequently controversially beaten in a box-off by a veteran Egyptian boxer for a place at the Rio Olympics.

At the next European qualifier in Turkey earlier this year he suffered a shock defeat in the early rounds. At the time it was suggested that he sustained an injury in the fight which affected his performance. However, he was subsequently sent home from the tournament for an alleged breach of discipline and was fined a reported €5,000 by the IABA, though it is believed that the fine was ultimately waived. There was speculation at the time O'Reilly would be forced into a box-off to decide whether he would go to the final Olympic qualifying tournament in Baku.

But in the event there was no box off; he was sent to Baku and comfortably won the tournament to become the eighth and final Irish boxer to qualify for Rio.

Seeded at number three in the Olympic draw he was due to make his debut in Rio on August 12 but it now looks his dream of glory, and possibly his career, is over.

A statement from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport read: "Sport Ireland, as the anti-doping agency within Ireland, has initiated the appropriate formal process having detected an adverse analytical finding in respect of a member of Team Ireland at the Rio Olympic Games.  Due process and natural justice must apply.  Accordingly, it would not be appropriate to discuss any case that is the subject of the formal process."

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