Sunday 21 January 2018

IABA out to make their case as the battle lines are drawn

The IABA are unhappy with Sport Ireland Chairman Kieran Mulvey and the body itself.
The IABA are unhappy with Sport Ireland Chairman Kieran Mulvey and the body itself.

The fallout from the departure of boxing head coach Billy Walsh continues too reverberate through Irish sport.

An IABA statement has described remarks by Sport Ireland executives as "a scurrilous, disingenuous and highly questionable attack on Irish boxing." Tomorrow the IABA appears before the Oireachtas Sports Committee.

Speaking to the Herald on Friday afternoon, IABA executives, fearing what they term "a power grab", aired their mistrust of Sport Ireland, the body that dispenses government funding to sports bodies.

"We believe the reason that they made those utterances was to enable them to attempt to hive off under their own control our High Performance Unit," said IABA board member Ciaran Kirwan.

"But what they don't understand is that without the consent of the Association itself, that cannot happen. We are the only body sanctioned by the world governing body AIBA."

Kirwan's comments were reiterated by IABA Chairman Joe Christle who added: "What saddens us is that pronouncements at how the IABA should be run and conduct its affairs have been made by people who have never boxed, trained or run a boxing club, people who are not regular attendees of the National Stadium or any other boxing tournament."

While IABA claim that Sport Ireland seems primarily focused upon the prospect of medal success in international tournaments, the IABA say that they (the IABA) are equally concerned about the work done at grassroots level.

"Boxing is the Marmite sport," explained Christle.

"You love it or loathe it. The Department of Health and Education identified the two sports that may be used for health and educational benefits in disadvantaged areas as football and boxing. We're not doing that because we are engaged in a struggle for the retention of a part of our organisation which is the High Performance Unit."

Citing a 2011 Strategic Plan for Boxing, the Chairman said: "That report did not concentrate on the High Performance.

"It said that the IABA should use the High Performance to drill down through the organisation and seek to establish regional academies in all four provinces so that there is a greater and smoother pathway from the clubs, through the regional academies and upwards into the High Performance.

"That's what we are trying to engage in.

"Meanwhile there seems to be a power grab to take the High Performance Unit and hive it off as something separate from the IABA, which is not part of either the Strategic Plan for Boxing or the plans and desires of the members of the IABA," he added.

Christle has been on the Board of the IABA since 2011. He became Chairman in July 2014. "I'm a non-executive chairman," he explained in response to a query of what his job entails.


"What I've sought to do is bring on to the board qualified people in areas of law, accountancy and governance and also finance.

"I've also sought to bring in more boxing people, to reconnect from the grassroots up through all the stakeholders."

As an amateur association, the IABA has been operating successfully in an increasingly professional international arena. What is the infrastructure that results in the team's success?

"Our core staffing numbers of paid employees is only 25," said Ciaran Kirwan. "Of that only eight or nine work in administration. The rest are involved in either coaching or as development officers for the association.

"There are over 360 clubs which are manned and operated by volunteers. Our tournaments are run by volunteers.

"There has been an attempt by the chairman to ensure that the volunteers have a voice on the board. It's a recognition that the volunteers are the foundation on which the success of the sport has been built. There would be no production line of talent coming into the High Performance Unit if it wasn't for coaches and volunteers all over Ireland."

When Gary Keegan, the Director of High Performance, resigned following the Beijing Olympics, he explained: "One of the hardest things of achieving success is that people do move on. I deliberately set myself a five year plan.

"Sustaining success is as difficult as trying to get it in the first place. Because people can become complacent and think it's easy."

His position remains unfilled. The IABA has yet to consider the structure of the High Performance for the future.

"Billy was one of the applicants for the role of Director but was unsuccessful at that time," explained Ciaran Kirwan. "He continued in his role as Head Coach."

"Subsequent to that, an administrative assistant to the head coach was installed," said Joe Christle.

"Caradh O'Donovan, who was with Triathlon Ireland, started three or four months ago. She's fitting in very well. As a former European kick-boxing champion, she's a decorated athlete herself, and commands respect of her charges in the HPU.

"At Board level we have not yet discussed if we should look for a Director of High Performance. Billy's strength was as a coach. Appointing a Director of High Performance could only be done in the knowledge that we had the funding in place."

Tomorrow's Oireachtas Sports Committee hearing may help heal this damaging rift.

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