Sparks fly at Oireachtas hearing as IABA face down their critics

Across the Atlantic, Billy Walsh is unveiled in USA as the new US Women’s boxing coach

The IABA delegation arrive at the Oireachtas: Ciarán Kirwan director, CEO Fergal Carruth, president Pat Ryan and chairman Joe Christle. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

The IABA delegation arrive at the Oireachtas: Ciarán Kirwan director, CEO Fergal Carruth, president Pat Ryan and chairman Joe Christle. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

At around the time Fergal Carruth was denying for the third time in the Oireachtas that his position as chief executive of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) was under threat, Billy Walsh was being unveiled in America as the new US Women’s boxing coach.

That was yesterday’s harsh reality.

There was no need for such haste from the Americans to parade their trophy. In a dismaying four-hour meeting of thunder and fire in front of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, the choice of seemed well-placed.

A culture of distrust in the IABA, procrastination, petty envy and internal fighting, and through the cracks fell the Irish career of Walsh.

It was a meeting in which the IABA conceded they have suffered “reputational damage” over the irreversible loss of Ireland’s most successful coach.

But there was more heat than light as Carruth and the IABA were treated to fury and frustration from both Sport Ireland and a number of Senators and TDs.

Vexed question

Why did Walsh leave was the vexed question. Why did he actually leave? The answers were varying accounts and boxing storylines that many of the politicians didn’t believe.

“Mr Christle, you say that you wanted Billy Walsh to stay. Personally I don’t believe that,” said Senator Eamon Coghlan to IABA chairman Joe Christle.

Christle had made a heroic effort to explain why the negotiations with Walsh failed through the medium of contractual law. At the heart of it was the need to protect the IABA from claims from the rest of its staff.

If the board had agreed to Walsh’s larger lollipop – which on October 14th was set at 115k and a 10k bonus on a three-year deal – every staff member would have wanted a larger lollipop and the IABA couldn’t afford it. That issue, not Walsh, was the gist of the IABA’s overriding concern.

The sport that receives more than any other for high performance, €925,000 in 2015, insisted it was all about money.

“The package was €1.6 million. There was a long term liability without matching funds. It was irresponsible if not reckless,” explained Christle.

No it wasn’t, said Treacy. Funds would have been available and Sport Ireland said this to the IABA. Walsh leaving was about everything but money.

Second Captains

“Without question in my mind, it fell down on a non-financial issue,” said Treacy, who described his relationship with the IABA as “strained”.

Treacy added: “I would say our confidence (in IABA) is shaken. I want to be clear that finance wasn’t an issue here”

The quietly fuming Sport Ireland chief executive then poured scorn on a suggestion that coaches of Walsh’s ability were not in short supply.

Gag clause

“This first arose in February. We were concerned we could lose Billy Walsh a year before the Olympics,” he said.

“We met the IABA to ensure he didn’t leave. We were told there were 20 coaches who could do the job of Billy Walsh.”

The contract offered by the IABA had a gag clause and its terms could be changed by the employer, the IABA, a normal thing according to solicitor and IABA director Ciarán Kirwan.

Chairman of the Joint Committee John O’Mahony knows something of high performance and contracts and has coached Galway to two All-Ireland football titles.

“I would be five minutes in the job if those conditions were put in,” said O’Mahony.

Kirwan countered.

“I could draw the analogy to Matt O’Connor. When he complained how rugby players came back (to Leinster) after national duty, he was called to an IRFU disciplinary hearing. And we all know what happened to Matt O’Connor.”

Treacy was asked if preventing high performance directors from talking to the media was normal.

“No, it would be unworkable,” he replied.

Paschal Mooney chipped in. His breeze was sharp and biting and cold. He wanted to know why they dragged negotiations out at the end as Walsh’s clock counted down.

“You say you wanted him to stay, yet evidence suggests otherwise,” said the FF Senator. “The public see him like Martin O’Neill or Joe Schmidt, leading this. How could you let this man go after eight months (negotiating).

“I think you acted disgracefully. It’s the closest thing in a sporting sense to national sabotage. People have called outside that you might consider your position.”

Frustration hissed in the chamber; the more the IABA spoke the more they explained that there was no coherent reason, none at least the chamber could understand.

Have autonomy

There were other heavy-handed slights to Walsh. Dominic O’Rourke was hired ahead of Walsh as high performance director in 2008. Sport Ireland didn’t approve, nor Walsh. So, the IABA kept O’Rourke on a generous salary as director of boxing development, while Walsh double jobbed as the de facto high performance director and head coach.

“He didn’t have autonomy or the respect of the association,” said Tim Dooley TD.

In 2012 Sport Ireland were told by the IABA that the terms of Walsh were going to be enhanced. They were not enhanced. Sport Ireland then put faith in the new IABA board.

What they got was a final contract agreed by Walsh and then returned to him with 60 amendments.

“I’m not surprised,” said Kirwan, a contractual law specialist. “These were not red line issues. I believe 30 were agreed to. The next communication was the resignation.”

At the end they all stood up, the IABA and Sport Ireland and shook hands in the most positive gesture of the afternoon.

“The only reality lads is Billy Walsh is gone,” said Dooley.

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