Kurt Walker among boxers to benefit from Olympic qualification reshuffle

Featherweight joins Irvine on plane to Tokyo; Harrington almost assured of place

Ireland’s Kurt Walker reacts after Germany’s Hamsat Shadalov gets the decision during the Road To Tokyo Boxing Qualifying Event at the  Copper Box Arena in  London last March. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho

Ireland’s Kurt Walker reacts after Germany’s Hamsat Shadalov gets the decision during the Road To Tokyo Boxing Qualifying Event at the Copper Box Arena in London last March. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho

 

Lisburn featherweight Kurt Walker will join Brendan Irvine on the plane to the Tokyo Olympics without even throwing a punch following a major qualification reshuffle.

The IOC Boxing Task Force – who are organising the sport’s Olympic qualification process following the IOC’s suspension of recognition for AIBA – released an updated qualification system on Monday that appears to have confirmed Walker’s progression to the Games.

The European Olympic Qualifier, which is still on pause since last March due to Covid-19, will now resume in June at a to-be-confirmed location having initially been set for April.

This delay means the mooted ‘final chance’ World Qualifier in Paris, which was also set for June, has been cancelled. Instead, the 52 places that were to be on offer in France will now be allocated equally across the four continental confederations based on world rankings – with one European boxer being given a golden ticket in each of the 13 weight categories.

While the rankings themselves will be updated following the completion of the various continental qualifiers, the sizeable number of points accrued by European Games gold medallist Walker in recent years means he is guaranteed to come out on top.

It is a huge boost for the Ulster stylist who had suffered a somewhat surprising defeat to Germany’s Hamsat Shadalov in his first fight at the European Qualifier in London last year. This defeat came mere minutes after Belfast flyweight Irvine confirmed his spot at a second Olympics with a dominant win over Hungarian Istvan Szaka.

With the European Qualifier still ‘ongoing’, a number of Irish boxers will be hoping to add their names to the Olympic roster alongside the Antrim duo. While they may not reach the total of eight that qualified for the Rio Games in 2016, there is plenty of hope that there will be a raft of confirmations in June.

With ranking points now acting as a back-up, Dublin lightweight Kellie Harrington is almost assured of a place on the team barring a combination of wholly unexpected results. Belfast siblings Michaela and Aidan Walsh both have had their chances boosted by this new dimension but are also required to win at least one bout at the Qualifier – with the same being true for Portlaoise middleweight Michael Nevin.

Roscommon’s European middleweight champion Aoife O’Rourke may get a boost but would need the rub of the green while Dublin trio Emmet Brennan, George Bates, and Kirill Afanasev receive no benefit and will have to qualify the old-fashioned way.

The same can be said for Dean Gardiner, who has been told by IABA high-performance director Bernard Dunne that the door is still open following the Tipp super heavyweight’s retirement announcement over the Christmas period.

The reshuffle, however, is bad news for Ireland’s female flyweights and welterweights who are now completely out of the running for Tokyo. Both Carly McNaul and Christina Desmond had been eliminated early in London and all hopes were pinned on the scrapped World Qualifier.

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