Wednesday 13 December 2017

Walsh departure not end of world

Loss of head coach is a blow for Irish boxing but talent still left to guide us

Ireland boxing coach Billy Walsh
Ireland boxing coach Billy Walsh

That Billy Walsh couldn't reach an agreement with the IABA is disappointing for everyone.

With an offer from USA Boxing in his back pocket, Billy had been negotiating a new contract with the IABA for months. When he didn't get the terms he wanted he resigned. That's business.

But what was Billy looking for? We don't know. And it's to the credit of the IABA that they refused to publicly discuss details of an employee's agreement. On the other hand, statements from the Irish Sports Council seemed undiplomatic.

Even in the days before government funding assisted their efforts, Irish boxers were winning medals. These days, government money is channelled to the IABA through the Irish Sports Council (ISC).

The IABA is an association of hundreds of amateur clubs, spread around every county in Ireland, which staffed by enthusiastic unpaid volunteers who do a marvellous job of developing young sporting talent. The competition for national titles every year is ferocious, with club coaches guiding young talent into the spotlight. These are the unsung heroes of Irish boxing you're unlikely to hear on with Marian Finnucane.

In the quest for international honours, an elite team of boxers receive extra tuition and funding to enable them to concentrate fully on training. The organisation of amateur boxing internationally has been going through some seismic changes in recent years.

The governing AIBA (Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur) has a first class Pro Boxing division which is supported by the IOC. APB (AIBA Pro Boxing) rankings can clinch Olympic qualification. There's also the AIBA-owned the team-structured World Series Boxing (WSB) which provides "a bridge between Olympic Boxing and a future professional programme within the AIBA family".


The IABA has been restructuring the organisation to deal with the challenges ahead.

The Board of Directors of the IABA has leading barrister Joe Christle, a former national heavyweight champion, as chairman. Also on the board is ESB CEO Des Fitzgerald, former rugby international and father of rugby star Luke. Businessman Alan Flanagan is a chartered accountant and a member of the Institute of Directors. Ciaran Green is a well-known solicitor. IABA President Pat Ryan is the club coach of world bronze medal winner Michael O'Reilly. These are boxing people with qualifications and passion for the sport.

The tributes paid to Billy Walsh are well founded. He's been a wonderful Head Coach and deserving of the publicity he's received. But it's never been a one-man show. Billy's ill-timed departure won't leave our boxers in the lurch.

From Zaur Antia (Head Technical and Tactical Coach) and Pete Taylor (Katie's coach), and down through the ranks, the HPU is blessed with excellent coaching talent. Every coach has a backstory of personal success. As Paddy Barnes tweeted recently: "John Conlan is the main man. Helped me and Mickey qualify for Rio and now is the man behind Mick's World success".

Somewhere between the Irish Sports Council's eagerness to call the shots and the IABA's commitment to the code that has been paying dividends internationally is an interface of uncertainty, a zone of corporate intransigence.

We've been hearing a lot, perhaps too much, from both Billy Walsh and the ISC in recent weeks. Yesterday the ISC said they would "have to review the outcome of its recent engagement with the IABA". This sounds like they're saying if they don't get their way, they'll stop funding boxing. It sounded like the last twist of pressure to have the IABA agree to the ISC's terms.

Perhaps a more prudent, less dogmatic, approach by the ISC would have resulted in a different statement from the IABA which, last evening, which noted the association "accepted with regret the resignation of Billy Walsh".


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