Earlier this week, a box-off to decide Ireland’s super-heavyweight representative for next month’s European Championships was mooted to take place this evening. Instead of that fight taking centre stage, Irish boxing has been hit by yet another crisis — one which could last a far longer distance than the three rounds originally expected to be contested between Martin Keenan and Dean Gardiner at the National Stadium.
Those two boxers are now supporting characters in the latest saga to engulf the sport as a dispute over whether Gardiner or Keenan would be picked to travel to Ukraine for the continental competition has proven to be just one of the sparks to ignite a roaring blaze in the boardroom of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA).
The row is not merely about which fighter will travel to Kharkiv for the European Championships — which get underway on June 14 — but it also the result of an IABA civil war that has been brewing for some time.
The position of Joe Christle as IABA chairman has been questioned by a rival claimant, David O’Brien, while Bernard Dunne’s position as director of the IABA’s High Performance Unit is also relevant.
Boxing journalist Kevin Byrne took to Twitter late on Monday night to reveal that Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy wrote to IABA chief executive Fergal Carruth to complain that Dunne’s authority in his role was being undermined.
Treacy’s letter stated that “The IABA is faced with a crisis arising from recommendations of the Performance Director not being accepted by Central Council. This undermines the IABA HP Programme and the authority of the new Director [Dunne].” It is believed Treacy’s complaint was mainly based on two decisions made by the IABA’s Central Council.
As high performance director, Dunne had put forward his team selection for the European Championships to be ratified by the IABA’s Central Council. However the subsequent selection of Gardiner over reigning Irish 91+kg champion Keenan has proven to be a contentious one.
Differing accounts as regards Dunne’s exact selection at 91+kg have been put forward by sources close to the situation, with one claiming that Dunne had originally proposed that Keenan be picked — or that a box-off should take place between the Rathkeale clubman and Gardiner.
Whatever the exact wording of Dunne’s proposed selection, Central Council instead opted to select Gardiner — the former champion who was ruled out of this year’s national championships due to injury.
Central Council’s second contentious call was their decision not to ratify Dunne’s appointment as Team Manager for the European tournament.
Appearing to reference this decision, Treacy’s letter complained that the IABA have yet to introduce a new rule book — which would formally ensure that such decisions will in future be made by the High Performance Unit — as recommended in the ‘Rio Review’ that followed last summer’s calamitous Olympic Games. Implicit in Treacy’s wording was a threat to the IABA’s funding if a new rule book is not introduced.
Holding up the introduction of a new rule book is the split at boardroom level, with has resulted in two rival factions — one supporting Christle as chairman, the other supporting O’Brien — and both sides have dramatically opposing views on the potential autonomy of the High Performance Unit in terms of such issues as team selection.
Members of each side were due to meet with Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan and Sport Ireland last night in an effort to resolve the selection dispute. However, IABA president Pat Ryan reportedly failed to show for the meeting, casting further uncertainty over the situation.
A spokesman for the Department of Sport last night confirmed they were still awaiting a confirmation on Ryan’s possible attendance at a rescheduled meeting.
Meanwhile, O’Brien last night reportedly called for both Christle and Fergal Carruth to resign their positions.
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