Bernard Dunne says authorities must ‘protect all our athletes’

IABA high performance director is confident Olympics will go ahead as planned

Bernard Dunne is listing off his priorities when the question turns to Boxing and the Mob. As high performance director of IABA, Dunne is duly consumed by the question of if and when his elite boxers will get the chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, because there is still no great certainty.

The European qualifying event, first abandoned after three days at London’s Copper Box Arena last March because of Covid-19, were scheduled to resume in London on April 22nd, only have now been cancelled outright; an alternative host city, in or around the same dates, is currently being sought.

For Dunne, who is still confident the Games will go ahead next July, Monday night’s BBC Panorama investigation (Boxing and the Mob) into Daniel Kinahan’s involvement with professional boxing may or may not have been an unwelcome distraction.

“I haven’t got to see it just yet,” says Dunne. “I have teenagers at home these days, so they get to control the TV, and I do have it recorded and I do plan to watch it. I’ve actually been dealing a lot with the fallout from the cancellation of the European qualifier.”

Still, it was impossible not to get the message; or at least the image of professional boxing being tarnished by the links with Kinahan and the original MGM gym. Darragh McIntyre’s comprehensive investigation traced the apparent rise of Daniel Kinahan, a known member of the Kinahan drugs cartel in inner city Dublin, to the top of boxing event and management. He is also credited as a “personal adviser” to British heavyweight champion Tyson Fury’s comeback.

Kinahan did claim to step back from MGM, which then renamed itself as MTK (Mack The Knife), only for Panorama to uncover enduring links.

“We just need to make sure the people in power, the people who are running our world governing bodies, that they put in the rules and regulations,” says Dunne. “They protect all our athletes, and the most important piece in all of this is our athletes, and making sure they’re given the right opportunity.

“If it’s amateur boxing, to achieve European, World or Olympic success, or just to compete in our sport. And then as professional athletes, if it becomes a business as professional athletes, that they’re given the opportunity to create that career that they want to have. But the people in power need to make sure to protect then.”

For Dunne, the cancellation of the European qualifying event is just the latest in a serious of headaches, although he insists the focus on Tokyo is unwavering.

“We were actually in Italy in January of last year, and we had to evacuate, because they were going into lockdown. Then we were in London in March, and had to evacuate there as well. So it felt like the virus was following us around.

“I was also in Japan in November, and we’ve picked our hotel there (in Miyazaki, on the southern tip of the country), and everything will be on site, the boxing gym, so in any quarantine environment, that will be a lot easier to manage. We’ve just partnered with USA, France, Germany, and now the Netherlands are on to it as well. If they can get everyone in the country safely like that I think the Games will definitely happen.”

Belfast flyweight Brendan Irvine, who qualified for Tokyo in London last March before the event was cancelled, remains the only qualified Irish boxer; Kellie Harrington, Michaela Walsh, Aoife O’Rourke, George Bates, Emmett Brennan, Aidan Walsh, Michael Nevin and Kiril Afanasev are all still in contention, although Dean Gardiner’s position is unclear as he announced he was retiring last month.

“They’re happy at the moment, still working hard, but it’s a messy challenge at times, we’re not going to sugar coat that. Imagine you’ve been gearing for something for 10, 15 years, being those to achieving your dream, and it’s put in jeopardy, due to Covid. A lot of them have been their lives on hold, deferred college or give up work, and given everything towards these Olympics, and all that is extended for another year. But nothing have changed in terms of what we want to achieve, they just have to focus on getting as ready as possible when they chance comes.

“The big concern is clubs all over the country are locked down, not just boxing clubs, but many of the boxing clubs are in disadvantaged areas, generally give young people the chance to do something for themselves, some direction, and some respect for themselves and others. And for the last 12 months no one outside of elite boxing has been able to do that, and that’s a huge concern, that we may lose some athletes.”

Team Ireland partner Indeed has teamed up with Bernard Dunne to launch the Indeed Career Coach programme, which aims to help tackle the core issues high-performance athletes encounter when transitioning to life outside elite sport.

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