Boxing – Reasons why the IABA is simply ‘NOT fit for purpose’

The Irish Olympic boxing team and its coaches are due home from Rio next Monday and undoubtedly many questions will be raised regarding the overall performance of team, coaches and inevitably if the departure of Billy Walsh has had any negative effect. We believe not as indeed does the Wexford man himself. The boxers have 100% faith in Zuar Antia, John Conlan and Eddie Bolger as both Mick Conlan and Paddy Barnes have said more than once.


We believe that each and every member of the team that got into the ring boxed to the best of their ability – there’s no denying that


First though let us examine  what needs to be done and why and in what timescale.?


There will be an opportunity for the IABA Executive including Chief Executive Fergal Carruth, Vice President Joe Hernon and IABA’s recently  Elected President Pat Ryan to explain in a Media Conference exactly what went wrong – and right – in Rio. Team Manager Joe Hennigan also needs to explain why as Team Manager he was rarely if ever available  to comment or in any way help shield the coaches (especially Zuar Antia, John Conlan and Eddie Bolger) from the spotlight when news broke of Michael O’Reilly’s  ‘failed’ doping test.


We’ve said before and repeat again that it is crazy that the IABA yet again should not have sent its  Senior P.R.O and excellent journalist Bernard O’Neill to Rio no more than they did to London 2012. Equally the Olympic Council’s PRO Nick Dawes also was conspicuous by his absence. Where was the IABA’s Commercial Manager Robert Connolly who reports directly to Fergal Carruth?


The Irish boxing community and taxpayer needs to know exactly what the sequence of events was and why were the Team Coaches not made aware of the O’Reilly problem before being ‘collared’ by the Irish & International media.


We again repeat our question to Sports Minister Shane Ross: WHO leaked the story to Daniel McConnell the Political Correspondent of the Irish Examiner yet no one had the courtesy of informing our coaches who are amongst the best in the world of AIBA boxing albeit we seriously suspect that one or two will be lost to Ireland for ever more as a result of how they were treated  – or more correctly betrayed – in Rio. If that story was NOT leaked via sources in the Department then perhaps time to bring in the Garda Siochana to investigate.


The team set out with high hopes of collecting between 5 and 8 medals – with hindsight probably over-optimistic to begin with but for the first time since  Athens 2004 we end up with not a single medal, not even a bronze and in view of the substantial  funding from the Sports Council or behalf of the Government’s Sports Ministry no doubt that a detailed inquiry is called for.


Whilst there may be some good reasons for our team’s performance – which fell far short of what we know they are capable of with one exception – Michael Conlan who was ‘robbed’ by the exceptionally poor AIBA judges in Rio. We won’t cover here the performance of the boxers themselves or the coaches but suffice to say they too must be allowed an opportunity of speaking up for themselves,  with the exception of Michael O’Reilly who will most likely be represented by his legal advisers or his Portlaoise BC  coach and IABA President Pat Ryan or both.


Once that media conference is over and after a short break for a well-deserved holiday then we believe that Sports Minister Shane Ross and his Assistant Patrick O’Donovan must invite the IABA  quartet named above to appear  before an Oireachtas/Dail Committee headed by, we recommend,  Brendan Griffin TD who has extensive experience of sports investigations in Ireland and would be ideally suited to such a role.


Already there are a number of IABA’s experienced officials in Ireland who are furious to put it mildly that the IABA CEO and IABA President/Vice President   issued no statements in the early days and allowed the situation in Rio to fester and by then the rumour mill was such that it gained momentum day by day.


Boxing clubs and coaches were being contacted by local Radio, TV and Radio stations to send representatives to explain just what was going on in Rio and

Many felt that it was the CEO and/or President/Vice President’s role to brief the media.


Some experienced IABA officers like Stephen Connolly and Dominic O’Rourke did volunteer to take part to ensure that the IABA’s case was put succinctly and that the listeners fully understood the scoring system in ‘amateur’ Olympic boxing. That said many others  asked where were Fergal Carruth, Pat Ryan and in Rio where was Joe Hennigan. Where indeed.


At any ‘time of crisis’ it is crucial to have one’s leading lights take the lead in dealing with media not simply hiding away.


When a statement was issued by the IABA it appears to contradict what Assistant Coach John Conlan told Irish journalists locally insofar as Michael O’Reilly’s appearance or non-appearance in training is concerned. The IABA’s statement when it came suggested that Conlan got his dates wrong and that O’Reilly had been in Rio at the pre-Olympic training camp and since albeit he had to return for treatment for an injury.


By our reckoning Michael was in the Baku training camp for  10 days and later at the training camp in UK for 5 days or to put it in simple terms 15 days out of 96, true there was then the period he returned to Ireland for treatment to that injured knuckle but that still leave many many days unaccounted for albeit one is sure that in accordance with standard IABA procedures ‘sick notes’ did cover many if not all of those days. The IABA should re-address that issue in any forthcoming conference or inquiry.


Though we have been unable to establish direct contact with any of the Irish coaches or officials in Rio, we  understand from reliable non-Irish sources that a major talking point has been that  AIBA officials took a very dim view of the comments of a former AIBA referee, Seamus Kelly and also feel that they had to spend many hours dealing with Media queries from all over the world on the Michael O’Reilly saga, when they had not been briefed by IABA HQ.


This anger  according to non-Irish officials may well have ‘come to the attention of’ some Referees and Judges who may thus have been less generous to Irish boxers than to those of other countries. That may or may not be the case but our contacts do suggest that there was a noticeable shunning of the Irish officials and boxers by some countries judges and this allied to annoyance with the IABA’s failure to brief them re O’Reilly’s test may well have ensured that any close calls did not go Ireland’s way.


In fairness there were several other decisions too not involving Irish boxers including Saturday’s heavyweight fight which Levit of Kazakhstan clearly won over the Russian  and yet the latter got the verdict.


Indeed one of our contacts suggested even before Monday’s bout that Michael Conlan would have to k.o the Russian to be sure of getting the verdict.


The AIBA’s response to allegations about bribery and corruption (not relating to the Guardian articles ) but the standard of refereeing in general read:


“AIBA’s statement read: “Following recent judging decisions and after carrying out a thorough examination by the relevant commission, AIBA has decided to take immediate and appropriate actions.


“Since the beginning of the Olympic Games, AIBA has conducted 239 bouts. The AIBA R&J commission has reviewed all decisions and determined that less than a handful of the decisions were not at the level expected and consequently it has been decided in accordance with the AIBA R&J evaluation committee that the concerned referees and judges will no longer officiate at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. In accordance with AIBA rules the result of all the bouts will stand.


“AIBA represents 200 national federations and has continuously sought to evolve the sport of boxing and continuously strive to ensure a level playing field.


“AIBA will not shy away from its responsibilities and is fully committed to a zero tolerance policy towards fair play in boxing, always acting in the boxers’ utmost interest.


“The Olympic Games represent the pinnacle of all sports and boxing has been part of this since 1904. It is essential AIBA stands to the values of respect, sportsmanship, excellence and remains committed to a fair and transparent sport.


“With regard to corruption, we would like to strongly restate that unless tangible proof is put forward, not rumours, we will continue to use any means, including legal or disciplinary actions to protect our sport and its R&J community whose integrity is constantly put into question.


“The organisation will not be deterred by subjective judgements made by discontented parties. We welcome all parties to come forward and provide evidence in order to take appropriate and immediate action.”


Considering the funding from Sport Ireland we firmly believe that the existing IABA as it stands including the Executive and the Boxing Council/IABA Ltd is NOT ‘fit  for purpose’. The sooner a newly formed boxing association in Ireland is formed the better for the sport in the future always provided that  it is based under the watchful eye of Sport Ireland at the Irish Institute of Sport in Abbotstown and NOT at the National Stadium.


Overall control of the unit should be the responsibility of an Executive  Director of Boxing, someone like Gary Keegan who  held a Senior role at the IIS but resigned recently to form his own agency. Nothing to stop Minister Ross seeing if he would be interested in that role again.


Let us remember too that the IABA has already lost not only Billy Walsh which was avoidable but also the famed Cuban coach Nicolas Cruz Hernandez whom many in the sport consider to have been the man who built up Irish boxing excellence.


Gary Keegan himself was forced out of the IABA before moving on to the I.I.S.   To lose so many coaches with Interim Head Coach Zuar Antia and John Conlan perhaps  likely to join them show just how ‘amateurish’ the present IABA Executive and their immediate predecessors have been/are  – as we say time for change as the IABA is simply NOT fit for purpose.


Should be an interesting Annual Conference at the National Stadium on October 2nd.  More so if the Media are invited.


To Lose One Head Coach May Be Regarded as a Misfortune – To Lose two is Careless but to lose Three already is totally unacceptable.





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