Minister for Sport Jack Chambers has described an unsigned document distributed at board level in Irish boxing that was critical of former high performance coach Bernard Dunne as “a disgrace”.
The Minister added that the governing body of Irish boxing, the IABA, must make radical changes to the way the organisation is run or face “immediate and severe financial sanctions.”
He has given the organisation three months to engage in major restructuring. It is not the first time Irish boxing has been threatened with having its funding stopped.
In a statement the IABA appeared less than convincing that change could take place in the organisation in accordance with a recent review.
“IABA’s ability to implement the required reforms is contingent upon a democratic ballot of boxing clubs and their members,” it said. “IABA is already aware of staunch opposition among some long-standing volunteer members to the primary recommendations proposed in the review.
“The IABA hopes that the minister’s comments today on the immediacy and severity of financial sanctions will give those members pause and motivate them to think on what is in the best interests of the sport they love.”
Dunne, who led the Irish boxing team to a bronze and gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, recently handed in his resignation as high performance director following dissatisfaction around complaints he made against two board members in the organisation.
"We can't and will not be funding behaviour like this and governance dysfunction," said Minister Chambers on Today with Claire Byrne. "I want to see boxing fully embrace and support the recommendations in the review.
“The anonymous and malicious document right before the Olympics undermining Bernard Dunne and the high performance unit was frankly a disgrace. (Those who wrote it and circulated it) need to be isolated and removed from running boxing.”
The Minister’s comments come after an independent report recommended that the IABA adopt a new structure that would include a 12-member board of directors to oversee its running. Half of the board would be independent.
"I absolutely share the concerns of (former Olympic team coach) Billy Walsh and Bernard Dunne and that is why I am saying as a bottom line there will have to be a full implementation of the recommendations as outlined," said Chambers. "They will have to produce an implementation plan within three months at the latest."
The Minister also asked that Dunne reconsider his position and make a return to boxing if the IABA agrees to embrace a real change in culture and organisation.
“I would love to see Bernard Dunne return. If IABA is serious after their EGM about implementing the recommendations. I would love to see the door open for Bernard Dunne to return,” he said.
The IABA have said they will be reviewing Minister Chambers' comments. Sport Ireland (SI) will be given the role of ensuring that any reforms in boxing are not temporary.
In 2017 the then chief executive of Sport Ireland, John Treacy, warned the IABA that funding would be cut from July of that year unless the sport resolved "significant issues of concern".
In a strongly-worded statement, Treacy said that there are “ongoing governance issues within the organisation.”
Among those outstanding issues five years ago was the autonomy of new high performance director Dunne, whose team selection for that year’s European Championships was challenged by the IABA’s central council.
Lightweight gold medallist from Tokyo, Kellie Harrington, recently spoke out in support of Dunne following his resignation.
Minister Chambers added that he feared for the long-term future of the sport if boxing delegates did not opt for change.
“Those recommendations and timelines around them will have to be agreed with Sport Ireland,” he said. “They will be monitored monthly. I want to make it clear we won’t be seeing this continuity of conflict and internal battles.
“We cannot have individuals on a board or council deciding who is being selected on a particular team. Bringing in 12 directors with half of them independent on the board, you’ll see very significant change happening if the recommendations are implemented.
“Boxing and members of boxing have a clear choice if they want to embrace reform. If they don’t embrace it in the timelines outlined, it will have an impact on their core funding.
“What is happening now is we’re discussing individuals who have a malicious intent within the organisation trying to undermine the likes of Bernard Dunne and Billy Walsh in the past. They need to be isolated and removed from the core running of boxing.”