Fere we are, looking on aghast yet again as the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) airs more of its dirty linen out in public, writes Brendan O’Brien.
It’s October 1969. Monty Python is debuting on the BBC, millions of Americans are taking to the streets to protest the country’s ongoing prosecution of the Vietnam War and a handful of Republic of Ireland players are meeting with the FAI in a Manchester hotel in a bid to bring an end to the days when the national team is selected by a bunch of old guys in suits.
To be fair to the blazers, their eyes were open.
Their counterparts in England abandoned the old system of selection by committee six years earlier when appointing Alf Ramsey to succeed Walter Winterbottom and, though no-one was suggesting that the Republic of Ireland could go on and win a World Cup, there seemed to be widespread agreement that change was needed.
Mick Meagan, drafted into the role of team manager for the friendly visit of Scotland to Dublin the month before, was the players’ choice and the man duly installed as the first to have full autonomy in deciding who should represent the Republic of Ireland in senior international football. “Revolutionary,” as one newspaper put it. And it was in FAI terms.
That’s almost half a century ago now. Yet here we are, looking on aghast yet again as the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) airs more of its dirty linen out in public and prominent on the rap sheet is the mess surrounding their High Performance programme and who has the right to decide which athletes represent it.
Things have to be bad when the FAI are 50 years ahead of you.
There is much more going on in the IABA than that standalone squabble but the sheer volume of controversies, claims and leaks turn your average Joe off and rightly so. Administrators are like referees in that they must be doing something badly wrong for people to take notice and the boxing boys are rarely out of the headlines.
The team selection debacle tells us more than enough.
Bernard Dunne was appointed to the role of high performance director in late April. It wasn’t a decision that bowled everyone over but the guy was a multiple Irish amateur champion and he wore the WBA’s world super bantamweight belt so, if nothing else, this is someone who should know a decent fighter when he sees one.
Yet this is an organisation still operating under a rule book — updated as recently as 2006 — that still leaves the ultimate say in team selection with an eight-man Central Council. Hence their decision last month to overrule Dunne’s decision that Martin Keenan and not Dean Gardiner represent Ireland at super heavyweight at the upcoming European Championships.
The eight wise men did row back by agreeing to a box-off, which Gardiner won by split decision, but the damage had already been done to Dunne’s authority and IABA president Pat Ryan disparaged it further by claiming in a leaked letter that the Dubliner’s choice of Keenan had been a “misguided” one given the fighter’s inexperience in international competition.
With friends like that… Add to all this two factions, both claiming allegiance to a different man they say is the rightful chairman of the IABA, and we have a depth of complication and potential for catastrophe rarely seen outside a Nasa fuse box. The battle for control of the high performance unit is merely a microcosm of that war between parties fighting over the soul and the structure of the sport.
So it is that we can have a statement from the IABA stating that a new rule book handing power of selection over to the HP director will be introduced while its president, Ryan, can come out and say that Central Council will retain its right to oversee such matters and that they will not be “railroaded” by, in effect, any threat to their funding.
That this is still an issue is astonishing and an indictment of the IABA and Sport Ireland.
The Rio Review stated that the High Performance programme has “been plagued with issues of interference from within the structures of the IABA” from its birth in 2003. Issues of autonomy were “prevalent” throughout the 2012-2016 Olympic cycle and the London Review said baldly that administrators must cede all authority of selection.
ny doubt as to why administrators should be silent on the selection of fighters was shredded by the Rio Review when it detailed the chain of events that saw Michael O’Reilly and Dean Walsh effectively dismissed from the HP programme after disciplinary breaches at a tournament in Turkey but then reinstated by the IABA Council.
“This undermined the culture of professionalism within the programme and the leadership position of the High Performance coaching staff,” the report said.
It was O’Reilly, coached at club level by Pat Ryan, who would fail a drugs test before the Olympic Games.
Just one disaster, then, that could have been avoided had the administrators stuck to administration.
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