Rarely has Ireland had such a wealth of talent in any sport as we do now with the current crop of boxers yet the level of dissatisfaction within the boxing community ( the fighters, their coaches, their families, the fans) is greater now that it has been for more than twenty years.
And who is responsible for this? None other than the Amateur sports’ governing body in Ireland the I.A.B.A.
In this the 100th anniversary year of the formation of the IABA, and with arguably the best crop of boxers ever available in these islands, we should now be concentrating on the European Youth Championships being staged in Dublin 22-28 August followed by World Senior Championships in Baku,Azerbaijan from 22 September to 10 October. Yet with only days to go before the opening ceremony in Dublin which will be attended by most of the Heads of European Boxing Nations the talk is NOT about these championships, being held in Ireland for the first time, but of the chaos which prevails within the IABA concerning who represents Ireland in Baku.
Firstly let us go back to the early hours of the morning of Saturday 6th August and this notice issued to the media and distributed at 01.39am on the IABA.ie website.
“Sean Crowley, Honorary Secretary of the Boxing Council of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, has stated that it was decided at an Officer Board meeting yesterday (August 5th) that they will be recommending that when the team for the AIBA World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan comes up for ratification at the Boxing Council meeting on Saturday, August 20th that they will be recommending that the winners from next week’s Open Unseeded Elite Competition will be the team for the 2011 AIBA World Championships.
The 2011 AIBA World Championships which will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan this September/October will act as a qualifier for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.”
This is a clear statement of intent, no ifs, buts or maybe……. “ …. they will be recommending that the winners from next week’s Open Unseeded Elite Competition will be the team for the 2011 AIBA World Championships”. At the time of that decision being made and communicated it was known the certain key individuals were injured and there would have been (if indeed any thought was ever given to the subject) serious doubts re the availability of the injured boxers for a “box off” event. So it must have been the intention of the IABA to go ahead with the winners even if some from Paddy Barnes/John Joe Nevin/Joe Ward/Ray Moylette,Willie McLaughlin and Darren O’Neill were injured and unavailable for the box offs. Joe Ward had already said after winning gold at the Europeans : “I should be able to focus my mind on the World Championships now. Instead I’m left wondering about box-offs and the like. It’s not ideal”.
This week, Darren O’Neill’s father and Coach Ollie described the decision to go ahead with and make judgements on the box-offs as “unbelievable” – son Darren has not lost to an Irish opponent for more than 3 years but is suffering from a hand injury just now. “This is causing untold distress”, said Ollie O’Neill “ a man in the middle of recovering from a hand injury and he’s told that if he doesn’t go in these box offs, he’s gone. I’m totally bewildered”.
Effectively, the injured , unavailable boxers “ruled themselves out” of the World Championships . Or have they? Serious concern was already being expressed privately by boxers and/or their families. Even as the box- offs, came to an end on Saturday night, one senior boxer,who understandably did not wish to be named, said : “It’s ludicrous. Nobody has a problem with box-offs but the timing of these is ridiculous.They’re 100 percent negative energy which isn’t needed in any team. As a boxer,as an athlete,you feel undervalued.You feel there’s no confidence being put in you by your own association. How are you meant to perform in those circumstances?” If any of the “key individuals”missing from the box-offs are omitted one can not rule out such a case ending in the courts with the IABA having to defend the indefensible.
By Friday though there was a slight glimmer of hope in the IABA’s announcement at that time, or was there? There does appear to be considerable internal disagreements about the original decision and what to do next?
Sean Crowley, Secretary of the Boxing Council of the IABA confirmed to the Irish media that he had received medical certificates of injury from the “missing” boxers BUT he reiterated his earlier comment that the officer board would be recommending the winners from this tournament are selected for the team to the central council meeting on Saturday week. “Then they will select the team,” he said.
“Nothing is ever written in stone here,” director of boxing Dominic O’Rourke added , whilst insisting that what the Secretary stated earlier still stood. Later on Friday the IABA later issued a new statement, taking into account without doubt the significant complaints received from all involved:
“The Irish Amateur Boxing Association has responded to the current discussion surrounding the selection of Team Ireland for the upcoming AIBA World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, which also acts as an opportunity to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The Association recognises the genuine concerns of boxers, their supporters and families, and the wider community of boxing and sports fans regarding team selection.
The Association has stated however that it is a long-standing part of team selection for major championships to use box-off tournaments to assist in this process to ensure the strongest possible team is sent, and it is in this context that this week’s Open Elite Competition is being held.
What brings the matter into particular focus now is the extraordinary strength and depth in Irish Amateur Boxing. This wealth of talent has been developed due to IABA coaches, members, volunteers and officers nationwide, and has been built on by the strength of the High Performance Unit and its coaching team.
In individual weight divisions, Irish amateur boxing boasts a number of boxers more than capable of representing Ireland at World level. The box-off ensures that European Champions, national champions and international medallists can be assessed prior to team selection, and that it is fair that all are afforded this opportunity.
At a meeting on 5th August, the Officer Board of the Boxing Council of the IABA recommended that the Open Elite Competition be used to assist in the selection of the team for the World Championships. Formal team ratification will ultimately take place on 20th August, and the Boxing Council will select the team following the outcome of the Open Elite Competition, and assessing other relevant performances and factors.
There will of course be a further opportunity for Ireland’s boxers to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games via the AIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament “.
Interesting statement that ,albeit inconclusive. Whilst mentioning the 5 August statement here there is no reference to their previously recommending that the winners represent Ireland at the Worlds – so several boxers could in fact win the Box Offs and still not represent Ireland in Baku? And the unusual reference to the further opportunity for boxers to qualify via the AIBA Qualifying tournament.
That could equally mean that someone like Joe Ward or Ray Moylette, even as European Champions, or Darren O’Neill might still not be selected for the Worlds but could still qualify for a place in the Olympics..
Equally it means the possibility would exist that an Irish boxer on boxers albeit from a “weakened” team might qualify for London 2012 simply by making the last eight in Baku and in so doing would end the chances of better fighters at the same weight being chosen. Or could we have even more box-offs between the winner of the box off and an injured now fully recovered fighter? Not as outrageous a possibility as it may seem.
The IABA has had a relatively easy ride (until this weekend) from the mainstream Irish media, which should in fact have been outspoken from the outset on such a subject. Why the silence?
RTE’s main boxing ‘correspondent’ is one Bernard O’Neill (no relation!) . The Irish Times’ main man at the ringside is …. Bernard O’Neill. The Irish Independent’s top amateur boxing writer is ….. Bernard O’Neill . Much of the Irish Examiner’s amateur boxing news for many years has been supplied by …..Bernard O’Neill (still no relation!).
Now as boxing fans throughout Europe and indeed further afield know, Bernard is an excellent and much respected boxing writer who has almost single handed provided most of the publicity for Irish boxers in recent years. Bernard though is the Press & Public Relations Manager of the IABA so is hardly in a position to write any critical pieces for the Indo, the Examiner, Irish Times, RTE or any of the numerous other journals and magazines he contributes to ….. irrespective of what his personal views on this controversy may be.
Even he must be deepl;y frustrated by now trying to fend off questions from journalists. Surely the might of the Irish mainstream media should be in a position,at all times, to offer an “independent” view of the Irish Amateur boxing scene as of course they will do when London 2012 comes round albeit by general sports correspondents rather than boxing specialists.
One can but hope that the “Irish Sports Council” which contributes so much to the funding of Irish Boxing will also become involved here as indeed should Minister of Sport, Leo Varadkhar and Olympic Council of Ireland chief, Patrick Hickey even if in private and ensure that wise counsel prevails and that the team chosen to represent Ireland will be the best that Ireland can muster and that should be, indeed can only be, that team as recommended by High Performance unit supremo, Billy Walsh.
At this time, Billy should know exactly who will be in his team for Baku and they should be on the forthcoming training camp in Assisi this month . Indeed the Irish squad should be chosen early this week so that Billy Walsh and other coaches can work with them in preparation for Baku. What useful purpose would be gained by sending say half a dozen boxers to Assisi and then find they were not among those selected for Baku? This needs to be sorted out “toute suite” not ‘manana’..
Unbelievable chaos ! You could hardly make it up. Once all of this is over but unlikely to be until after London 2012, there should now be a completely independent investigation into the organisation of boxing in Ireland. One can only wonder what would have happened with Katie Taylor in her career if her Father, Peter had not stood up to the IABA so often in the early days and had not himself taken care of all her boxing assisgnments.
For sure she would not have been world champion three times nor European champion on four occasions. If these were individuals in any sport , acting in such an ‘amateurish’ manner they would long since have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute. The IABA needs more people like Michael Carruth, Bernard Dunne and Peter Taylor involved people whom the fighters of the day can relate to and respect. Time for change ….. and sooner rather than later.