IABA on much firmer ground for next showdown
Billy Walsh gone but the boxing association have Sports Ireland firmly in its sights
The IABA changed their view between the Saturday and the Tuesday on Walsh’s salary. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
To appreciate the level of mistrust that existed between Billy Walsh and his employers at the IABA, it’s worth going back to a Saturday in August and a meeting in what was then Bewley’s Hotel in Leopardstown.
Three parties were present – Walsh on one side, the IABA on the other and the Irish Sports Council (hereafter referred to as Sport Ireland) in the middle, trying to affect a pull here and a tug there to drag the factions to an acceptable middle ground.
With over two decades in labour relations under his belt, this was undoubtedly Kieran Mulvey’s bailiwick.
His chairmanship of Sport Ireland is nearly a pastime compared to the years he’s put in at the coalface of various industrial disputes. Mulvey has untangled far more stubborn knots than this in his time and must have assumed a way through was achievable. After all, Walsh said he wanted to stay and the IABA said they wanted to keep him.
Mulvey ran the meeting using a classic Labour Court technique. He put a proposal to Walsh, who suggested some amendments and left the room. IABA Chairman Joe Christle couldn’t make the meeting so he sent a proxy and the proxy along with CEO Fergal Carruth entered the room to look over the proposal before suggesting amendments of their own. Out they went and in came Walsh. Out went Walsh and in came Carruth and the proxy. Back and forth, forth and back.
Fast forward to yesterday morning on Seán O’Rourke’s radio show and Christle, when pushed by Des Cahill, professed to have no knowledge of a fragile relationship between the association and its head coach. No friction, no tensions, nothing. No mention that the two sides left Leopardstown that day having shaken on a deal. No mention that the IABA came back with an email the following Tuesday changing significant parts of it on the basis that they believed it wouldn’t get past the board in the agreed form.
Without getting stuck too deep in the weeds over the details, the IABA changed their view between the Saturday and the Tuesday on Walsh’s salary, on his bonus structure (proposing that the €25,000 bonus for worldwide achievements in 2015 be split among coaches and boxers instead of going directly to Walsh) and on a salary review for the IABA as a whole, essentially with a view to other officers within the association getting pay-rises if the head coach was going to be getting one.
So no, there is no trust between Walsh and the IABA. Truth be told, it is a long time since there has been.
The issues have been well-aired. Ever since Gary Keegan left the post of High Performance Director after the Beijing Olympics, Walsh has been doing two jobs and getting paid only for one. He has ploughed on through those seven years despite job offers from the UK, from Kazakhstan and from America. He has masterminded unprecedented international success against a backdrop of sniping and ill-will from his own association.
On the IABA’s side, there is a genuine feeling that Walsh’s role has been overplayed. They don’t accept that he is quite the once-in-a-lifetime supercoach that he is sometimes made out to be.
Understandably enough, they resent being told their business by politicians and media who have never laced a pair of gloves in their lives and who only poke their nose in once every four years or when there’s a bit of bad news to be dug out.
Most of all, they have been polishing up their ordnance in preparation for an outbreak of hostilities with Sport Ireland for long before the government agency changed names.
They have suspected that a move would be made at some stage to remove the High Performance Unit from their aegis and when Mulvey went on Prime Time to suggest that a funding review would be in the offing if they didn’t sort this out, they were ready for him.
It may not have seemed that way as the week went by soundtracked by deafening silence but look at what the issue has become now. Walsh has gone. Nothing will change that, whatever is revealed.
Just on that, it is thought that he will have more to say on the matter, possibly even over the weekend.
He is known to be angry at a second deal that had terms changed between the handshake last week that Christle talked about on radio and the subsequent email that was sent to Walsh’s solicitor by the IABA.
But the deeper we get into the sewer of he-said-they-said, the worse the stench becomes, with the inevitable waning of public interest that follows.
No, the issue now is a bout of political bare-knuckle between the IABA and Sport Ireland. By coming out in such aggressive terms yesterday , the IABA have moved the story onto the sort of ground where they are comfortable.
They are standing up for boxing against a meddling Government agency, one they described yesterday as having “absolutely no experience, knowledge or credibility in this sport”.
Sport Ireland have to tread carefully here. Mulvey and John Treacy laid down their markers early in the week but the IABA’s statement effectively said, “Yeah? So? What are you going to do about it?”
So now Sport Ireland have to decide.
They weren’t helped by their Minister for Sport, that’s for certain. By steaming in on Thursday and promising that IABA funding wouldn’t be cut under any circumstances, Michael Ring destroyed any leverage Sport Ireland might have had.
The upcoming appearances by both sides in front of John O’Mahony’s Oireachtas Committee on Wednesday might be worth watching or they might not.
Sport Ireland weren’t just as bolshie late in the week as they were at the start and they may well take George Bernard Shaw’s advice on board. “Never wrestle a pig,” said Shaw. “You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
If this turns into a scrap, the IABA won’t mind one little bit.
As for Walsh, he used tell a story about going back to Wexford after the 2004 Olympics. Ireland and Great Britain had only one boxer apiece in Athens so neither had much support staff. As a result, Walsh helped out as a second in Amir Khan’s corner, which led to him walking in for the gold medal match behind Khan.
“I got home and all the boys were giving me abuse for marching in behind the Union Jack,” he would say, usually as an offhand way of quelling the latest round of speculation about him taking a job abroad.
On a certain level, the IABA suspected that this would stay the case forever.
The figured him for a homebird and pegged him as someone who would never coach against his own.
And if he did?
Well they reckoned there were plenty who could take his place.
We’re about to find out if they were right or not.