There’s been little time to sit back and relax for newly appointed IABA CEO Fergal Carruth.
With boxing commanding more and more attention after the glory of the Olympics the issues have become bigger and bigger.
Former Drimnagh boxer Carruth, younger brother of Barcelona 1992 gold medallist Michael, ascended to the top job at the National Stadium in late October following the retirement of Don Stewart. His first objective is to breathe new life into an association that is seen as old-fashioned in its business dealings while remaining successful on the international stage.
Like every organisation in Ireland right now, income is the big challenge. Allied to that, and much like the IRFU, is keeping its prized assets. Since the last year’s elite senior tournament champions John Joe Nevin, Tommy McCarthy and Sean Turner have turned pro, as has the highly-touted prospect Conrad Cummings.
European gold and World silver medallist Jason Quigley has sizeable offers on the table, while Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Katie Taylor have all been approached by promoters.
“The IABA is limited in what it can offer any boxer,” said Carruth.
“We’re dependent on the Sports Council and how they can fund the boxers. If the promoters come in with a huge, huge offer, it’s going to be very difficult to keep any amateur unless their Olympic dream outweighs their desire to turn professional.
“What we can offer is that we will support any boxer to the highest level that we can support them in their dream of achieving an Olympic medal.
“The support they get is a huge step up on what was available 20 years ago, even 10 years ago. We’re happy that in most cases that it will be enough.
“Obviously, if the promoters really want that particular boxer and come out aggressively to sign that boxer, it’s with a heavy heart that we will see them go.”
Unlike their rugby cousins though, this is nothing new. And Carruth’s predecessors have been tormented by the same question.
“From an early age it’s something they dream of and something that’s probably unique to boxing. A hockey player never dreams of moving on to a different discipline outside of the hockey they play in, or a soccer player will endeavour to reach professional levels but it’s not seen as a loss to amateur soccer if someone decides to go professional with Chelsea.
“It’s deemed as a loss to amateur boxing if the amateur boxer turns professional. It’s a fact of life. One, that the boxers may have always harboured dreams of becoming a professional anyway and two, that the professional ranks will always look down to the amateurs as a feeding ground into their sport/business.
“It’d be very interesting to see can AIBA quell that by introducing more World Series of Boxing [WSB] and AIBA Professional Boxing [APB]. That they can stay part of the amateur structure, and it’s more regulated, and they still have a chance of going to the Olympic Games.”
Carruth is already hoping to find answers to the money problems and will recruit a commercial and marketing professional soon.
“For us here, we need to obviously continue to hit the podiums to the levels that we have. That can only be done by supporting the people who are in the High Performance – boxers and the coaching staff, and background staff.
“But also the volunteers in the association, the officers’ board, central council, the people on the grassroots and in the clubs; the conveyor belt. So that must be continuously supported. We have to get the public’s awareness of how much of a good job these people are actually doing.”
That’s why he’s spending so much time working with Billy Walsh coordinating the changeover to WSB and APB structures. With qualification spots for the Olympics up for grabs from these professional tournaments, Carruth acknowledges they may need to appoint a full-time worker to manage the role.
But there are other issues too. The IABA has applied for a capital grand for much-needed work on the National Stadium and the High Performance Unit which has been criticised as too small and unsuitable for a top team.
He must also mend fences with Katie Taylor and her father Pete who has been a vocal critic of the association in its failure to put a long-term plan in place for its boxers after they retire. Taylor also lamented their lack of marketing ability for high-class international boxers, so much so that his daughter has only boxed once at the home of Irish boxing since scooping gold at the London 2012 Games.
“Katie is our golden girl in terms of the association, and she’s very much considered that within the association,” Carruth said.
“She is unique to boxing in general, rather in just Irish boxing, in what she has won and how much she has dominated her weight category for so long. She is a fantastic role model to have for any young children out there, whether they be sports minded or not.
“How she was promoted or not, coming back from the Olympics, was unfortunately before my time. I wouldn’t like to get into that except to say that from my own experience of my own brother coming back from the Olympics, the schedules are very tight with all of the engagements that say Michael would have had coming back from the Olympic Games. And that was the case for quite a long time.
“I’m pretty sure that Katie’s schedule would have been quite tight as well,” he added.
Bringing change slowly but surely. Many people thought for years the only way to manage it at the National Stadium was to drive a bulldozer through it and don’t stop until you hit the army barracks next door.
Instead, soft-spoken Carruth is hoping his common sense message and practicality can make the difference.
“I’ve been involved in boxing all my life. I don’t think too many people go for the old school. I try to be as practical as possible and I think people react to that, and you get the best out of people when you treat them in that manner.
“Include people as much as possible, that’s generally my modus operandi.”
And few could argue with that.
... boxers on social media
“Every sport with a young membership has the same difficulties and needs to be vigilant on how the people who are supposed to be ambassadors for the sport, promote the sport. Are there areas where we should tighten up? I’d have to say yes.
“l think you’ll find that the boxing community, they are quite disciplined people hence why they’re able to go out there and live such good lives and come back with Olympic, World and European medals. It’s because of that very fact that they’re such disciplined people.”
... WSB and APB
“I like watching the WSB and think it’s a good spectacle for boxing. Would I have liked to do it myself while I was boxing? Possibly not. I think it is very close to professional boxing. APB will go even closer again. I am very interested in it [APB]. I am a little bit conservative in my own way on how I like to watch amateur boxing, but nevertheless my interest would be enough to be compelled to see how this turns out and to support it.”
... role for ex-boxers
“The more our sport grows, the more people we will need to administer it. But also, the addition of WSB and APB is going to open up levels that we’re not too sure what’s going to be required to man these positions. I think the future is bright for Irish boxing and the people coming through it. Unfortunately I can’t make any promises that there’s going to be an abundance of paid positions within the sport.”
Dates for your diary
National elite boxing championships take place on...
Preliminaries: February 21 and 22
Semi-finals: February 28, March 1
Men’s finals: March 7
Women’s finals: March 8
Elite men’s international: Ireland v Kazakhstan, March 7
See www.iaba.ie for more.
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