Boxing: Time for “Changing of the Guard” at National Stadium?

Boxing has long been Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport and that position was further reinforced  in London 2012 with Katie Taylor’s Gold medal, a silver for John Joe Nevin and Bronze for Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan.

Yet many within the sport have long been dissatisfied with the internal structures in place and in particular the fact that the almost   ‘anonymous’ IABA Boxing Board  appear to have overall control of team selection albeit the names of boxers to represent Ireland are submitted by High Performance Programme  Director (currently Billy Walsh).

That clearly should not be the case. It seems though that this very unsatisfactory state of affairs may  change before long following the publication today of the review of the 2012 London Olympic Games carried out by Knight, Kavanagh and Page on behalf of the Irish Sports Council who do after all provide  most of the funding for Olympic sports.

The IABA is a Limited Company with former CIE Chief, Dr John Lynch as Chairman  and a Board of Directors which, according to the  current IABA website includes:

Mr John O’Gorman, Mr Barry Kenny,  Mr Joe Christle, Mr Tommy Murphy Mr Paul McMahon, Mr Pat Faulkner, Mr Jim Murrin, Mr Sean MacLionnsigh Mr Christy Kirwan,  Mr Sean Canavan, Mr Don Stewart CEO,

As to who the actual “Boxing Board” includes this is something that has kept journalists and boxing fans guessing for some time but is believed to include : Tommy Murphy,  Sean Canavan,   IABA Secretary  – Sean Crowley and IABA Registrar, Stephen Connolly.

There can be no doubt but  that the Directors and the Boxing Council are honourable men, most of whom have a long history of volunteering for the greater good of Irish boxing.

But in sport as in the business world it is vitally important to have a NGB which is in tune not only with its membership but especially  with its boxers and coaches and alas despite the success of our boxers in recent years it appears to many within the sport that increasingly the IABA is  becoming “out of touch” .

At a time when amateur boxing has all but disappeared – soon the name of the IABA will have to remove the word “Amateur” – it is absolutely vital that the IABA takes on board all of the recommendations contained in the Knight, Kavanagh and Page review and indeed goes much further.

Like it or not – and I agree there are many who do not – women’s boxing is here to stay and  not only in Ireland but in many other parts of the world, boxing will very much depend on women in the future as there is a considerable downturn in interest in men’s boxing in many countries.

There is a very urgent need for more women’s coaches in Ireland, an increase in the number of qualified Referees and Judges and the IABA Board of Directors and the Boxing Board should ensure that a minimum of two women executives are included for 2014 if not for 2013.

In addition there is a strong argument that at least two boxers (one male and one female) be co-opted to the Board and given a voice in their own and the sport’s future.

It has already happened in other countries including USA and only this week in Morocco so the administration of the sport in Ireland needs an urgent review.

In this writer’s opinion the success of Irish Amateur Boxing is to a very large extent due to the great work carried out by such as former Head Coach Gary Keegan , the present incumbent Billy Walsh, Zuar Antia and Pete Taylor not forgetting of course the great work of the coaches throughout Irish boxing clubs.

There are many others, many of them volunteers, who have also played their part in the success story that is  Irish boxing ; among them the IABA’s P.R.O Bernard O’Neill, highly  respected not only by the local and international  media but by boxing authorities such as the AIBA  and  others and who has ensured that news of Irish boxing successes reaches a wider worldwide audience at a time when almost none of the ‘home’  Irish media has a  permanent boxing correspondent.

IABA’s Development Manager for Women’s Boxing is another who has made a major contribution to the success of the sport in Ireland and of course let us not forget the boxers themselves both past and present.

London 2012 was a great occasion for Irish boxing, indeed Irish sport in general but now in the time for change and NOT after Rio 2016. The Irish Sports Council and indeed the Dept of  Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will say that any changes are a matter for the NGB concerned but

The time has come when these august bodies MUST oversee sport in Ireland and ensure that change does take place that helps Ireland stay at the forefront in boxing and if that means starting off by insisting that officials at the IABA and other Irish sport bodies have to retire at 65 as in the world outside then so be it. Let most of those so affected at the IABA  retire gracefully at 65 and not wait to be pushed.

Sport is now a big business and Irish sport must recognise the need for change and in some cases that may require saying  a big THANK YOU to those who have honourably served the cause but  one must NOT  be afraid to bring new administrators into boxing – and indeed all sports – so that we continue to thrive in the future and not live on past successes.

Here are the major recommendations for boxing, from Knight,  Kavanagh and Page  –  many of these assuming they are implemented which they should be as a matter of urgency – will have a major effect on the administration of the sport  in Ireland.

It is recommended the ISC in agreeing the next round of HP funding with the IABA ensures that:

1. IABA sets up the HPP staff structure so that:

i. Within the HPP, the PD is supported by a strong Operations Manager; enabling him to spend an appropriate proportion of time ‘ringside’.

ii. Staff appointed to the HPP are engaged by and accountable/report to the PD (and this process is not subject to interference or overrule by IABA members or committees).

iii. The number of coaches, specialist support staff and administrative, logistical and PR support personnel or contractually engaged staff is appropriate for a programme of this scale.

iv. The power of key IABA members or committees to either sanction or change HPP team decisions with regard to athletes selected entering (or not entering) domestic or international competitions is ceded in its entirety to the PD and HPP team.

2. The relevant committee structures, remits and, if appropriate, constitutional rights of IABA committees with regard to these requirements be amended to reflect this.

3. The HPP team is directly and fully responsible and accountable for all HPP funding going forward.

4. That consideration be given by the HPP team to increasing the extent to which individualised training, strength and conditioning, nutrition/dietary advice and generic SS/SM support is available for athletes.

5. IABA commits to actively and within a specified time, investigate the potential to extend (or replace) the present HP facility to add/ensure:

i. That elite athletes are able to train at the right times of the day/evening and do not have to fit in around other centre users.

ii. Appropriate space for strength and conditioning.

iii. Proper office accommodation.

iv. Good quality on-site personnel accommodation and amenities for HPP athletes.

6. Where appropriate, adopt the generic recommendations outlined earlier


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