(AUG 30) Irish boxing woke up
this week to the shock news that Head Coach Billy Walsh is
seriously considering an offer to coach the United States
women’s team and is set to leave his IABA post.
photo: Irish Times/Inpho:
Pete Taylor, Billy Walsh,Katie Taylor, Zuar Antia
There have been
pleas from boxing clubs, coaches and boxers for their beloved -
by all but the IABA it seems – Head Coach and his assistants,
among them Zuar Antia,to stay.
That such a situation has arose and has been left to fester,
brings no credit to the IABA Executive/Boxing Council or it’s
For several months now they have been aware of the position and
earlier this week the Irish Sports Council in principle agreed
to help fund a remunerations and benefits package that was
acceptable to Walsh though it must be stressed that finance is
NOT the REAL underlying reason . In fact any new payments would
have been funded by the I.S.C and not the IABA.
The Irish Sports Council who provide most of the funding for
sport in Ireland, were under the impression following their
previous meeting with the IABA that the ‘deal’ would be approved
by the IABA Executive at their Tuesday’s meeting.
The sport’s ‘amateur’ body seems to have concluded that agreeing
the proposed package would not be in the best interests of Irish
boxing so refused to ‘rubber stamp’ the deal.
The IABA’s higher echelon includes many true ‘amateurs’ some in
their 70’s and 80’s and several of those have been great
servants as volunteers but are completely out of touch with the
‘AIBA Boxing’ world of today.
Unfortunately as with many such boxing (and other sports
associations) they enjoy their benefits, their trips abroad and
the photo calls and media attention at Dublin Airport but in
reality they add little value to the Association which enjoys
great success internationally thanks almost entirely to the
magnificent work of the Irish HPU Coaching team, the boxers and
So if finance is NOT the main concern of Billy Walsh and his
team, what is?
Two of Ireland’s leading sports journalists summed it up thus:
Vincent Hogan (Irish Independent) : "This story has NEVER been
Walsh is a man who sold his own business in 2003 so that he
could work full-time in Irish boxing at a salary reputedly worth
half of what he was previously earning.
He is battling, essentially, for the right to do his job without
obstruction and administrative hostility, obstacles that have
been constant since he took charge of the High Performance
Programme following Gary Keegan's departure to the Institute of
Sport in 2008.
That battle seems nowhere close to a conclusion.
The IABA's attitude towards High Performance, 12 years after the
latter's inception, remains extraordinarily old-world and petty.
It is as if they almost resent the kudos falling the way of
coaches like Walsh, Zuar Antia and Pete Taylor, not to mention
the boxers themselves. There has been a long history of tension
between those running boxing’s High Performance and the IABA, a
fundamental clash of cultures but news of Walsh’s departure to
run the American women’s programme will be seen as an
astonishingly reckless price to pay for that tension.”
Keith Duggan: (Irish Times):
It has been reported that beyond financial concerns, Walsh is
frustrated with the IABA’s unwillingness to ratify stipulations
already agreed in principle.
It may be already too late but if Billy Walsh has not yet signed
for the US team, then it behoves the custodians of Irish boxing
– and Irish sport – to do everything possible to prevent that
from happening. As a matter of honour, his future contract terms
should at least match those of the American offer. The
conditions must be met by the IABA. If Ireland loses Billy
Walsh, it goes down as a national disgrace”.
Leading Irish sporting website SportsNews Ireland reminded its
“Far too often in recent years, Walsh selected teams for Ireland
only to find that that IABA’s Executive Boxing Council disagreed
and imposed its own choice .
It is clear that Walsh wanted to change the structure within the
H.P.U, something which boxers, coaches and media all believed
was necessary and in patiently pursuing such changes for so
long,Walsh has shown great loyalty to Irish boxing and its
boxers – most others would long since have quit in disgust.
On Saturday Vincent Hogan added : “Given a seemingly endless
history of conflict with boxing's governing body here, there
must be a growing sense of the British model being the one to
Sometime after setting up High Performance in the UK, a
Government decision was taken to separate it from the British
Amateur Boxing Association.
Today, it is High Performance alone - through a head coach and
three senior assistants - that selects GB teams for competition.
That kind of authority, the right simply to pick Irish teams
rather than have selections imposed from above, is at the nub of
Billy Walsh's frustration”.
The IABA has further damaged its ‘reputation’, or what little is
left of it, by the refusal of its Executive Council to issue any
statement on the subject ,not even to their ‘lords and masters’
the Irish Sports Council.
It is only in very exceptional circumstances that a sporting
body like the ISC would express strong views in public about one
of its own members but such is the anger within the
organisation that late on Friday they issued what in effect was
‘a public warning’ to the IABA with a lengthy official statement
part of which we publish here:
“Kieran Mulvey, Chairman of the Irish Sports Council said: "The
ISC has been clear and unambiguous in its desire to keep Billy
Walsh in Irish sport. We communicated clearly to the IABA that
we would provide whatever support is necessary to retain Billy.
It was our understanding that a framework and agreement had been
reached by all parties. The ISC were surprised and extremely
disappointed that the proposal was not presented to the IABA
board. We urge the IABA to act quickly and decisively in the
ISC’s CEO John Treacy : "We hammered out an agreement on
Saturday and we all shook on it. Then, we received an e-mail on
Monday saying that they're not going to the board with the
proposal. It's totally different to what we proposed and we're
urging the IABA to act decisively," Treacy told RTÉ 2fm's 'Game
On' show last night.
"We need to keep that calibre of individual in the country”
As of close of business, Friday 28 August the ISC confirmed that
they had received no further correspondence from the IABA.
There has been no comment or statement from the IABA much to the
annoyance of not only the ISC but also the boxers, clubs,
coaches and fans and the true extent of that anger can be gauged
by the fact boxers among them London 2012 and Baku 2015 Captain
Darren O’Neill and recent European Gold medallist Michael Conlan
have come out with strongly supporting statements supporting
Billy Walsh. It is ‘unthinkable’ that in any previous era boxers
would have been so bold as to comment publicly.
WBAN did receive a response from U.S. Boxing but that was the
expected : ‘USA Boxing has no comment at this time’.
For now our feeling is that nothing has been finalised so there
may be some glimmer of hope still for Irish fans that Walsh will
remain. It seems likely that this weekend the Irish Sports
Council with the full support of the Government’s Minister of
Sport Michael Ring TD will, ‘behind the scenes’, be exploring
ways in which this matter can be revisited with the IABA and
progressed. Will it be too late by then? We think not.
Longer term? The present impasse is damaging for the sport and
it would be a huge surprise if there is not a complete overhaul
of the boxing scene in Ireland and quite likely significant
changes in the way that the IABA operates – those changes would
almost certainly mean the resignations voluntarily or otherwise
of several senior figures at, if not before, the Annual Congress
in Ennis on 4 October. Meantime the clock is ticking away.