Bernard Dunne, the high-performance director of Irish boxing, asked for the entire Irish boxing team, coaching staff and back-up team to be tested for Covid-19 but was told that, because of the current volume of testing and lack of symptoms, testing was not available.
Thirteen Irish boxers, eight male and five female, competed in the recent Olympic Games qualification tournament in the Copper Box Arena in Olympic Park, London, which began on March 14th. The tournament was abandoned after three days because of growing concerns surrounding the spread of coronavirus.
The International Olympic Committee was subsequently accused of putting athletes' health in jeopardy after two Turkish boxers and their head coach tested positive for coronavirus after returning home.
And on Thursday evening, the Croatian boxing federation confirmed that two boxers and one coach from their team in London also tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I’d like to test all my athletes and all my coaching team and all my support team,” said Dunne. “I’ve asked for it but none of our guys have any of the symptoms or don’t meet the criteria to be tested. Ideally we’d have them tested as soon as they came home. I asked for that to happen. I was informed, unfortunately we can’t do it.
“They didn’t test because of the volume of testing going on at the moment and that none of our guys showed any symptoms. To be fair when we were in London we were aware of contact with people, with hygiene, not engaging and not exposing ourselves too much to the public. We took every precaution we possible could within reason.”
The former World and European professional champion said all of the Irish personnel involved in the tournament have been informed of the positive tests from the Turkish camp.
The Irish fighters include 2018 world champion Kellie Harrington, European champion Kurt Walker and European bronze medallist Michaela Walsh.
“We notified all of the athletes as soon as we found out,” added Dunne. “What we wanted to be is very open and honest with all of our athletes so they all knew. They were all told.
“Nothing changes for us. We are going into the ninth day now that we are home. It’s the same thing as coming back from any country. It’s self quarantine, good hand hygiene and general common sense. If our guys show any symptoms they know they have to contact me and we’ll go through the medical process. Everybody knows that.”
Eyup Gozgec, the president of the Turkish federation, said all three from the Turkish team had caught Covid-19 in London and that the Road To Tokyo event should have never taken place during a pandemic.
Although there are common areas at world boxing events, where athletes warm up prior to bouts and have their hands taped and gloves put on in rooms behind the competition rings, none of the Irish fought a Turkish fighter.
Irish boxers did compete against Spain and Germany, who both had team members competing against Turkish boxers in the first rounds of the competition. An Irish boxer also competed against Italy, where the incidence of the virus is high. Ireland left early from a training camp in Assisi, Italy prior to travelling to London because of the spread of the virus.
“None of our guys would have fought any of the Turks. I think it was a Turk 75kg male and one of their coaches that tested positive,” explained Dunne.
“It has really evolved very, very quickly. When we went out there were very few cases in the UK. Again it grew exponentially and when it looked like there was any risk they made the decision to bring us home.
“We would, 100 per cent never put our athletes in any sort of danger whatsoever. We got very clear medical advice on it. We were happy with that. We were in constant contact with the chief medical officer back at home and we were questioning over there as to what was going on.”
The Olympic qualifying tournament in London featured around 350 fighters from 40 countries. While it was taking place, Franco Falcinelli, the European Boxing Confederation president, warned that the risk of a boxer contracting the virus was "very high".
“Again none of our guys had shown and symptoms or any sickness at the time,” reiterated Dunne. “I want to be sure of my athletes and my team, that I do everything I possibly can to protect them.
“Look it has grown rapidly. We are home now nine days. Even in those nine days it’s nothing like it was. Our guys are very disappointed that the [Olympic] Games have been cancelled but everybody has got to understand it is the right decision. Everybody has to understand that.”