A knock-out blow for Irish boxing
Irish Amateur Boxing Association needs to clarify its stance on top coach Billy Walsh
There’s an unhappy correlation between the limitless capacity of sport to entertain and enthral and the corresponding propensity of those involved in its administration, bureaucracy and politics to exasperate. The Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) has demonstrated considerable ineptness in this regard, presiding in recent months over the sporting equivalent of a slow motion car crash, culminating with the resignation this week of Billy Walsh, head coach of its High Performance Unit.
Walsh is that rare breed in Irish sport: a coach who has achieved repeated international success. His team claimed a record haul of three medals at the Boxing World Championships last week, including a first men’s gold. And he is the most successful head coach in the history of Ireland’s participation in the Olympics where boxing has proved a consistent medal winner as others have disappointed.
Now Walsh has parted company with the IABA after the failure, following months of negotiation, to reach agreement on a new contract. That the differences between them relate to control and authority, rather than pay, reflects poorly on the IABA. Tellingly, a deal negotiated with Walsh and the IABA’s principal funder, the Irish Sports Council (ISC), was never put to the IABA board.
The ISC has been unusally forthright in blaming the IABA and council chairman Kieran Mulvey has threatened to review the funding relationship unless the IABA gives up the “nonsense”. But barring some extraordinary about turn, Walsh is bound for the US where he will become head of the USA’s women’s boxing programme and at next year’s Olympics will be in the opposite corner to Ireland’s most successful boxer, defending Olympic champion Katie Taylor.
It is worth noting that whoever coaches Ireland’s boxers will be in charge of a strong team. But that doesn’t mask the fact that faceless figures in the IABA have made the ISC and the Minister for Sport look impotent, and have scored a classic own goal or, more appropriately in this context, a self-imposed technical knock-out.