Billy Walsh’s legacy will live on.
In that, if nothing else, Sport Ireland and the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) were in full agreement yesterday throughout their extensive grilling at the hands of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications.
The problem is that the fallout from his departure will do likewise.
Details regarding timelines, contracts, negotiations, renegotiations, relationships and finances were all dealt with, but take a panoramic view of everything that has happened and one of the chief concerns moving on is the breakdown of the relationship between two hugely important bodies.
These two need to work hand in glove. Instead, the pair find themselves facing off across a political ring after the Walsh debacle. John Treacy, chief executive of Sport Ireland, said that there is friction between them and that the relationship has been “strained” since February.
“I’d say that our confidence (in the IABA) was shaken,” he admitted.
Treacy referenced the failure of IABA chairman Joe Christle to put forward to the body’s board of directors an agreed deal reached in August between all parties regarding Walsh’s employment as evidence of a “fracture” in the boxing fraternity.
The differences between the Sport Ireland representatives and those of the IABA were further highlighted when Bernard Allen, chairman of the Irish Sports Council’s NGB grants committee, expressed his displeasure over the process used to hire the IABA’s chief executive Fergal Carruth.
Christle responded by saying that he was “mystified” by that, but it was just another example of how the two bodies are at odds.
Kieran Mulvey, the chair of Sport Ireland, had stated last week that the funding relationship between the pair may have to be reviewed. He yesterday apologised for some of the “intemperate” language he had used, but not for the substance of what he said.
“Our reaction last week wasn’t over the top,” said Treacy. “It was us putting our foot down.”
The IABA had responded to that with a statement suggesting Sport Ireland were acting beyond their powers, but Christle refused to elaborate yesterday, adding only that “there was a history of miscommunication” on the other body’s part and that the IABA was “inheriting a legacy of mistrust”.
Christle also spoke of fears among coaches and boxers for their funding streams, but it was other financial issues which he and his colleagues concentrated on above all others when responding to the question as to why a deal was not done with Walsh.
The core of Christle’s point was that any assent given to an increased financial package for Walsh would open the floodgates for other coaches and boxers to seek higher levels of remuneration and it was later claimed that this had already been the case.
The projected increase in Walsh’s salary including bonuses was estimated at 60% and Christle also pointed out that to enter into a multi-year contract, when the IABA worked off uncertain levels of income on an annual basis, was not a recommended course of action.
Sport Ireland recognised this as an issue, but said they had provided assurances that a review into the IABA’s salary structure could be undertaken and that any immediate concerns over the salary of Walsh’s right-hand man Zaur Antia could be addressed immediately.
John Treacy added that Walsh had at all times been flexible on the financial side of negotiations and pointed out that the Wexford man was at the very lower end of the scale domestically and internationally when it came to salaries for people doing similar jobs.
These chasms in opinion are all deeply concerning. Mulvey made the point that it was in no-one’s interests to engage “in a sparring match” and he was one of those on both sides of the debate to state that the two parties could work together going forward.
We shall see.
Treacy insisted that this would be done in order to ensure that no boxers or coaches would be deflected from their goal of succeeding at next year’s Olympic Games in Brazil, while Christle suggested that an independent review of the Walsh saga was the best way to proceed.
For their part, the IABA’s board of directors will meet next Wednesday to discuss the entire episode, what lessons can be learned and how to go about finding the best candidate to fill the role of Director of High Performance once and for all.
That, at least, would be a belated step forward.
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