Boxers demand answers after Russian visa foul-up

A six-strong senior boxing team, due to represent Ireland at a multi-nations tournament in Moscow, were left stranded yesterday morning after a mix-up with their passports.

Along with two coaches, they were due to fly to London at lunchtime where they would get a connecting British Airways flight to the Russian capital. But just two weeks after Ireland’s brilliant showing at the Olympics, they were forced to head for home and abandon the competition. The IABA were last night blaming the Russian Embassy but the boxers said not only did they not receive an apology, they didn’t receive any other word from the governing body after the incident. One commented: “From the start the trip was a mess.”

The team due to travel consisted of Eric Donovan and Roy Sheehan from St Michael’s, Athy, Ross Hickey from Grangecon, Hugh Myers from Ryston, Newbridge, Sean Turner from Drimnagh and Conor Coyle from St Joseph’s, Derry. Yesterday morning they met with coaches Shamey Byrne from Grangecon and Martin Brennan from Mayo at the National Stadium at 9.30am, and were due to head to Dublin Airport at 9.45am.

“The taxis were there but we had to keep waiting as the girl in the [IABA] office said she thought they might be doing this and might not be doing this in the embassy,” said one of the travelling party who asked that his name not be used.

“Some guys were driven by parents and they waited there because we didn’t know the story. It was all over the place.

“Then she finally said they won’t stamp them and gave us back our passports. Lads had taken time off work and everything for this. Guys came from all over and had to travel back across the country without so much as an apology. It was just badly set up. I was told about four weeks ago we were going from the 25th to the 31st.

“Two days ago I got a text off one of the others going saying it was actually Thursday morning we were going. It was some joke. I was making sure I was losing weight over two weeks, not all in one lump so I’d be right. Then it suddenly turns out we are going two days sooner than we were told so I was all over the place. No one knew how many countries were in the competition even. Nothing.”

Another of the party, it emerged, had cancelled a family holiday while all were left wondering why things had been left until the last minute by the IABA, given their passports were handed in over a month ago in preparation. Those in the High Performance Unit office, who weren’t involved in the planning, have in the past said it takes three days to get passports stamped by the Russian Embassy.

But IABA chief Don Stewart defended the organisation and said they’d done exactly as they were told by the Russian authorities and had been left high and dry at the last minute.

“The procedure is, you get a letter from the body in the Russian state which is inviting you and you give them the name of the boxers and coaches.

“They then send us a letter of invitation and they also send that to the Russian Embassy here. We were told by the embassy that we had to apply for the visas on the 22nd even though the team was going away on the 23rd. We complied with everything that was asked of us — and this isn’t the first time there’s been short notice.

“When we went to the embassy yesterday we were told it takes three days, so Monday. We said we were told to be here now and they dug their heels in. We went back again this morning and they refused. We can’t go to the embassy for visa applications unless we are given a date to go.”

Stewart said the Russian boxing federation had been due to foot the bill for the trip, by reimbursing the IABA when receipts were presented on arrival. That would not be happening now.

Meanwhile, one of the boxers said: “I’m not sure who to believe, all I know is, after two weeks of training and having come to Dublin early this morning, no one knew anything and they didn’t even say sorry.”


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