The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is “extremely concerned”, sending their last warning perhaps that boxing as an Olympic sport is on its last standing count. The knock-out blow will be next.
The International Boxing Association (IBA) isn’t too bothered, saying “we shouldn’t say Olympic boxing, we should say IBA boxing,” because that’s what matters to them. Their fight will go on regardless.
It is a worrying predicament, depending on who or which corner you believe, this latest standoff coming after the IBA’s Extraordinary Congress in Armenia last Sunday. Although the Court of Arbitration for (CAS) ruled the IBA presidential election last May should have allowed Dutch candidate Boris van der Vorst to stand, Sunday’s re-election never went ahead, the IBA delegates voting 106-36 in favour of Umar Kremlev remaining as president without any contest.
The IOC stripped the IBA of all funding in 2017, and although it will organise boxing on its own terms for the Paris Olympics in 2024, it hasn’t included boxing in the 2028 Games in Los Angeles. A final decision will be made on that next year, one that’s unlikely to be overturned unless the IBA suddenly clean up their act.
The IOC will “fully review the situation at its next meeting”, but Kremlev is unfazed, the Russian businessman further distancing himself from the IOC by moving much of the IBA’s operations from Lausanne to Moscow.
As Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport it’s particularly worrying, although Aidan Walsh, the Belfast boxer who won welterweight bronze in Tokyo in 2021, isn’t unduly concerned: the Olympics may be in every young boxer’s dreams, but it doesn’t have to be the only one.
“The Olympics for me is the pinnacle,” he says. “In every sport, every athlete’s dream is to go to the Olympics. For me, and for a lot of people who I know whose dream is to go to the Olympics, the Olympic dream is a great one and something that got me to where I am today.
“Whatever happens is completely out of all of our control.
“There’s lot of other competitions that other athletes I know aim towards, like World Championships and European Games, even National Championships, so I honestly think it just depends on the athlete, what is your goal, what is your vision. For me personally, mine was the Olympics. Other people have different goals, some people might be more interested in different competitions, but for me it was the Olympic Games.”
Walsh was forced to miss his welterweight semi-final bout in Tokyo, and potential shot at Olympic gold, after twisting his ankle in a celebratory jump after winning his quarter-final; he has since added a Commonwealth gold at light middleweight, won in Birmingham in July, his sister Michaela also winning gold for Northern Ireland at featherweight.
At 25, Walsh is certainly in contention for Paris, and indeed Los Angeles in 2028, still he’s not getting involved in this fight.
“I just think in boxing you control what you can control. Ultimately, I’m a boxer, so for me boxing is my main priority. And whatever happens, happens. For me enjoying boxing and what I do for a living is all I can control.
“My main goal is to focus on what I can do in the ring, what I can do in the gym and what I can live my life like. I know I’m probably on repeat but honestly, I love boxing. Boxing is my hobby, it’s my job, it’s my passion. I love everything about it. I’ve met so many great people in boxing. Every boxer is individual. Every boxer has a different goal. My goal is the Olympic Games. Michaela’s goal is the Olympic Games and a lot of the other athletes I know their goal might be say win a national title, get on the national team.”
In the public eye, the Olympics will likely always surpass anything else won in amateur boxing. For Walsh, there will always be goals to strive for, and not having in the Olympics wouldn’t necessarily undermine the appeal of the sport.
“If the Olympic dream is your dream, I am sure that you would be disappointed.
“Sports and athletes are there for one job and that is all we can control, no matter what is said or done. We are there to perform. We are there to do what we do and enjoy it. That’s my main goal now, enjoying it. Whatever comes, comes and you just have to do your best.”
Aidan Walsh was speaking at Thursday’s Olympic Federation of Ireland’s inaugural Make A Difference athletes’ fund golf tournament at The K Club, the funds raised distributed directly back to Team Ireland athletes in their pursuit of excellence as they strive towards Paris 2024.