Irish Olympic chiefs and the Irish Athletic Boxing Association Executive are today anxiously developments in Rio following the shock announcement yesterday that one of the team, Portlaoise BC’s Michael O’Reilly had failed a pre-Olympic test, in Ireland prior to the team’s departure for the Brazilian capital.
Early indications from Rio suggest that that the boxer, is likely to appeal and have the ‘B’ sample tested.
The initial speculation yesterday evening followed a piece in the ‘Irish Examiner’, unusually from its Political Correspondent (Daniel McConnell) – as Social media became awash with rumours as to who the Irish athlete might be, those members of the Irish media already in Rio were left in the dark as no one from the Olympic Council, nor from Sport Ireland nor the Irish Athletic Boxing Association would understandably comment which is ‘normal’ practice on such occasions when the name of any athlete has to be initially protected.
The sport’s Governing body the AIBA International Boxing Association was unable to shed any light on the ‘mystery’ with AIBA Communications Chief, William Marie Louis insisting they were unaware and awaiting news from their Irish National Federation. He told ‘Press Association Sport’ : “The process is that a federation must inform their respective Olympic committee and this would ultimately be passed on to us.
“Only when AIBA is made aware of any reported issue would we be in a position to take the appropriate action.”
Hours later the Irish sporting authorities did finally issue this statement:
“The Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) has been notified by Sport Ireland today of an alleged violation of the Irish Anti-doping Rules committed by one of the boxers in our High Performance Unit,” it was conceded.
“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 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.
IABA’s policy is that doping is contrary to the spirit of sport and every member of the association has a duty to ensure that the sport is free of doping. We ensure our boxers are available for testing in and out of competition.
“The Irish Athletic Boxing Association will not be in a position to comment further until all elements of due process associated with the anti-doping programme are completed in this case.”
Next up, the Olympic Council of Ireland released a statement of its own:
“The Olympic Council of Ireland can confirm that the Sport Ireland Anti-Doping Agency has returned an adverse analytical finding in an A-sample provided to anti-doping officers.
“The finding relates to a test not conducted at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The athlete has been provisionally suspended from competition and can take part in no sports activity, including training, in accordance with the WADA Code.
“The athlete will now decide whether to accept a sanction for a doping violation, to request that a B-sample be tested, or to appeal the provisional suspension.
“No further communication will be made on the matter and the athlete’s identity will remain confidential unless the sanction is accepted or the B-sample is tested and also returns an adverse analytical finding.”
By then of course the name Michael O’Reilly was being mentioned in Rio and in a stunned and incredulous Dublin and indeed in media circles worldwide including but not restricted to France, Germany, United States, Great Britain and even further afield.
Irish Flag carrier Paddy Barnes professed complete ignorance and in a tweet pleaded with the ‘Examiner’ to name the boxer concerned. Less than an hour later Daniel McConnell of the ‘Irish Examiner’ did just that saying in their online edition:
“The Irish male boxer who allegedly tested positive for a banned substance on the eve of the Rio Olympics has been named by the Irish Examiner as Michael O’Reilly.
Sources in Rio have revealed that the Portlaoise native was tested in recent days and a banned substance is believed to have shown up in his sample.
It has been confirmed that the A sample showed up positive and the boxer has been informed of the failed test.
Ensconced in the Olympic Village in Rio, O’Reilly will have the right to appeal it by having a B sample taken.
Sources have said that he will know his fate within the next 24 to 48 hours, the Irish Examiner understands”.
RTÉ boxing analyst Mick Dowling told Six One news: “Michael O’Reilly should be well aware, as all the boxers and athletes are, that you are responsible for what you put into your mouth and you consume.
“It’s very, very disappointing that this has been a positive test on a day that we should all be excited about the draw. We should be excited by who is going to go through.
“We have a fantastic team out there and we get hit with this.”
He concluded : “That news won’t help the boys, but they are all professional enough to put that at the back of their minds and get on with doing what they know best – to bring back medals.”
In the 2FM studio, Bray BC’s Adam Nolan who was a key member of the London 2012 team said that Ireland’s Team Management and especially the coaching team have now to respond quickly to the news and have ‘ a critical role to play’ in the days and weeks ahead.
“The coaches that we do have out there are top-class, world-class coaches,” he said.
“They will keep the boxers focused on the job in hand.
“John Conlan, Eddie Bolger, Zaur Antia, they have a job to do.
“Obviously, this is not ideal preparation. It’s headlines all over Ireland at this stage.”
What happens now he was asked : “Michael has the right to have the B sample tested, but in the meantime he’s provisionally suspended.
“It’s looking likely in the next day or two that he will probably be removed from the athletes’ village and it’s looking like that he will have no part to play at the Rio Olympics.”
Five-time national champion Nolan repeated that athletes have complete responsibility for what they take and maintained that ‘ those that fall foul of the rules only have themselves to blame.
“Whether it’s performance enhancing or recreational, we don’t know, but it’s carelessness on the boxer’s behalf,” he went on.
“The setup in Ireland is strenuous. You could get tested eight, 10, 12 times a year.
“There is a website available for all Irish athletes. If you are unaware of what you’re putting into your system, whether it be some sort of supplement, there is a website Where you can check it.
“There’s no excuse at the end of the day.”
Darren O’Neill, the Irish boxing Team Captain from London 2012 had this to say via RTE this morning:
“Just hours before the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, a positive sample is the last thing Team Ireland would have wanted.
It’s a huge blow to team morale and, inevitably, the boxers will bear the brunt.
In truth they’ll all have had an anxious day in Rio: allegations of a positive sample surfaced early on Thursday and until they knew the identity of the athlete in question, it’s only human nature they’d be concerned.
While boxing is an individual sport, so much of the build-up and preparations take place in a team atmosphere, and the distractions that would have set in on Thursday, and the negative publicity that will readily follow, will help nobody.
Since the beginning of the High Performance Unit, the reputation of the team was something that was always spoken about: never tarnish the reputation by anything you do or say, in your performance inside the ring or your behaviour out of it.
That’s what will disappoint the team bitterly as Paddy Barnes gets ready to carry the Irish flag this evening.
The challenge for the boxers will be to get their minds right as quick as possible and it’s an equally stiff task for the coaches too: they’re in the same situation, and until the B sample is tested and comes back yea or nay, they have to keep the athlete as part of the team until he is officially ruled out.
Their main goal will be to shield the rest of the boxers from the negative publicity out there, and not let negative thoughts seep into their mindset.
Following my experience in London, I hope the athletes from our other sports accept the boxers and don’t judge them.
This group have been, and hopefully will still be, a source of pride and inspiration for the rest of Team Ireland’s athletes over the coming weeks”.
Beijing 2009 silver medallist, Kenny Egan told the ‘Irish Independent’ that he too was shocked at the news:
“When I first heard the news about Michael O’Reilly’s positive test, I was sure it was a wind-up.
My initial reaction was that it must have been for recreational use because, put simply, there’s just no way Michael was taking a performance-enhancing drug.
Doping is just not something that’s done in the high-performance system. Having spent 13 years as a senior amateur boxer, I can say that with certainty, but nonetheless this will be the ultimate blow for Irish boxing.
The world’s media know about it and Michael is about to be asked some hard questions. That’s only fair.
Every athlete is responsible for what they put in their body, end of story. You have to know what’s on the banned list and the lads are well educated by the Irish Sports Council, so there’s no excuse.
It could have been anything – an innocent mistake or a banned substance – but the bottom line is it’s a failed test and Michael is going to be eliminated from the Olympic Games. That’s a shame because he had a genuine medal chance.
Throughout my career, we were well educated about what we could and couldn’t take, so Michael will be held personally responsible for this. The lads aren’t in the high-performance setup 24/7; they go home a couple of days a week to see their family and friends and what he does in his spare time is Michael’s business.
During my own career, I was always very wary of making mistakes like this. When we were in training camps, I wouldn’t ever accept a water bottle from anybody else.
I was tested 10 to 15 times a year at my peak. The Irish Sports Council is really, really tough on our athletes, but it’s a fantastic anti-doping system, and most countries around the world aren’t as rigorous. The tests are getting better and dopers will always get caught.
Having said that, I believe amateur boxing is clean. Drug-taking is very, very rare. In my opinion, doping is just not going to enhance your performance much.
My advice to Michael is to keep his head. It’s not the end of the world. I know it’s easy to say that, but the harsh reality is this is probably going to be his one and only chance at the Olympic Games.
At the end of the day, there’s no one dead.
Michael needs to gather his thoughts, get together with his family and friends and have some time away from the spotlight.
This will be a test, no doubt. His dream of competing at the Olympic Games is being taken away from him over a terrible mistake. It’s really unfortunate, but he’ll get through this.
One of the most tragic things to come out of this is that some people may start doubting other Irish boxers who are in Rio.
That’s wrong, because this is a group that’s worked really, really hard to get where they are. Even though it might sound bad, the rest of the team need to just forget about this and focus on the job they have to do in Rio: to fight and win medals.”
Ireland’s last Male Olympic Gold medallist Michael Carruth – brother of IABA Chief Executive Fergal Carruth – was equally shocked and had this to say to the ‘Independent’ this morning:
“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 commented.
“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 do’s and don’ts…If they feel anything they are putting in is untoward they can ask advice.”
He concluded : “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.”
The 23 years old Clonmel-born, O’Reilly boxes out of the Portlaoise club with IABA President Pat Ryan as one of his coaches. The news will be a serious blow and embarrassment to the IABA President.
For Head Coach Zuar Antia and his fellow coaches, John Conlan, Eddie Bolger and indeed boxing Team Manager Joe Hennigan, keeping the rest of the Team focused on boxing – and only boxing -is now their main objective. Absolutely no room for further distraction as immense damage has already been done.
Once tonight’s Olympic Ceremony is out of the way , boxing commences on Saturday and their main attention now must be on ensuring that the team is not further distracted. A huge job for them as it is inevitable that the boxers will be wondering ‘ how and why did this happen’.