Three months out from the Tokyo Olympic Games, a damaging document has emerged in boxing that deeply undermines high-performance director Bernard Dunne and the high-performance unit of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), the most successful unit in Irish Olympic sport.
Almost the entire document, which has been distributed among IABA members and runs to over 1,500 words with 19 bullet points and a conclusion, is a scathing criticism of the former world champion and the Sport Ireland-funded high-performance unit that he oversees.
Called a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) Analysis, it also makes personal attacks on Dunne’s leadership, interpersonal skills and personality and makes a recommendation that he should not be offered another four-year contract.
There is no data to support any of the allegations made and there are no names listed of who took part in the survey, how many people were involved or who composed, drafted and commissioned the final report. But it was discussed at board level.
“Sport Ireland was not sent the document in question but is fully aware of its contents,” said Sport Ireland in a statement. “It is disappointing that it was given a wide circulation within boxing as it is unsigned and without merit.
“It has no positive intent and could only serve to undermine the efforts of the IABA in preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games.”
Remarkably timed, the largely critical piece comes just weeks before the Irish team travel to Paris for the European Olympic qualifying event beginning on June 4th.
"When asked, all of the board members said they did not know who drafted the document," said IABA chief executive Fergal Carruth. "I would agree that it was malicious.
“The so called position paper was not an official document. The board discussed the document. They agreed on the night they would totally disassociate themselves from that document.”
At the beginning, the document claims that “coaches, administrators and members” were consulted for their view of the current situation in Irish amateur boxing.
From the first point the paper claims, without substantiation, the high-performance unit (HPU) “leadership has failed to have meaningful engagement with the club coaches of boxers on the National Team.”
It continues to outline a raft of complaints and accuses the HPU of having no duty of care to boxers in the national team. It challenges the funding pathway, claiming that “there is no clear funding pathway for boxers who enter the HPU, i.e., boxers who are not on funding are required, to have the same dedication and commitment levels, as boxers on 40k euros. The methodology used to disseminate, who is entitled to funding, is inequitable.”
It condemns the HPU as “an exclusive club” rather than part of a wider governing body and alleges that coaches are seen as a threat rather than a partner.
The ninth point in the document states: “The HPU’s lack of ability, to have any meaningful involvement or engagement with the clubs is a terrible indictment on our Association to allow develop and is the very reason why our HPU is in decline.”
It does not outline how it comes to that conclusion or how it has measured alleged decline. Like other sports, boxing has been on hold because of Covid restrictions since an Olympic qualification tournament was abandoned last year in London.
The document further alleges: “The decisions HPU have made, and the direction they have taken, has ultimately, alienated them from the clubs. This situation brought about by the HPU, has brought disharmony and a lack of trust in HPU, leaving clubs in little or no doubt, that the [HPU] has no understanding, of the needs and requirements, of our present-day boxers and clubs.”
Without substantiation, the paper continues that Irish boxing has fallen out of touch, which is not only a criticism of Dunne but the highly regarded coaches around him, Zaur Antia and John Conlan, as well as current Irish athletes in the system such as 2018 world champion Kellie Harrington.
“In fact, there is a concern within club coaches that the training principles and techniques, are out of touch with the current Olympic style boxing,” it says.
In point 11, the document revives an old recommendation that was a major sticking point with former Irish coach Billy Walsh, who was the head of boxing high performance, when Ireland had their most successful Olympics in Irish boxing history, the 2012 London Games, where four athletes won boxing medals.
Walsh left Irish boxing in 2015 to take up an offer to head up the Olympic USA women’s boxing unit, one of the biggest jobs in world boxing. He was denied the authority to pick Irish teams for competition without having to submit them to committee for approval.
“All teams selected by HPU must be ratified by the Boxing Council, with permission to travel,” says the document in point 11.
The proposal would mean the Boxing Council consisting of the president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, registrar and eight elected members together with four provincial presidents, or 17 people, would pick the Irish Olympic boxing team.
It was believed that issue of selection had already been sorted out and agreed. In the Rio Review following the Games of 2016, it is stated: “From the outset in 2003, the High Performance Programme has been plagued with issues of interference from within the structures of the IABA.
“The leaders of the programme have never had full autonomy for decision making around the areas of budgetary control, selection of boxers for training camps and competitions.”
The most withering and gratuitous allegation is contained in the conclusion of the document, which, without substantiation, context or references, attacks Dunne’s personality and technical skills.
“Irish boxing needs the person with leadership responsibility of the High Performance Unit, to have more organisational and inter-personal skills,” it says.
“There is nothing wrong with the current Performance Director’s technical skills. However, at this time, Irish Boxing needs a person with a different personality, profile, and the right skill set. Otherwise, Irish Boxing will decline further . . . Following on from this period, the position for High Performance Director, should be advertised forthwith.”
Sport Ireland has totally rejected the maligned characterisation of the high-performance director.
“Sport Ireland acknowledges the excellent work of the IABA’s HP Unit under the leadership of Bernard Dunne,” it said. “We continue to provide every support to the HP squad and have total confidence in Bernard, the coaches, support staff and, of course, the exceptional boxers in the programme.
Dunne was unavailable for comment. The IABA said Dunne’s contract has been extended to 2023.