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U.S. Boxing set to appoint Irish Head Coach to head up U.S women's team? That's the rumour in Ireland this weekend
by Michael O'Neill
August 30, 2015

(AUG 30) Irish boxing woke up this week to the shock news that Head Coach Billy Walsh is seriously considering an offer to coach the United States women’s team and is set to leave his IABA post.

photo: Irish Times/Inpho: 
Pete Taylor, Billy Walsh,Katie Taylor, Zuar Antia

There have been pleas from boxing clubs, coaches and boxers for their beloved - by all but the IABA it seems – Head Coach and his assistants, among them Zuar Antia,to stay.

That such a situation has arose and has been left to fester, brings no credit to the IABA Executive/Boxing Council or it’s sub-committee.

For several months now they have been aware of the position and earlier this week the Irish Sports Council in principle agreed to help fund a remunerations and benefits package that was acceptable to Walsh though it must be stressed that finance is NOT the REAL underlying reason . In fact any new payments would have been funded by the I.S.C and not the IABA.

The Irish Sports Council who provide most of the funding for sport in Ireland, were under the impression following their previous meeting with the IABA that the ‘deal’ would be approved by the IABA Executive at their Tuesday’s meeting.

The sport’s ‘amateur’ body seems to have concluded that agreeing the proposed package would not be in the best interests of Irish boxing so refused to ‘rubber stamp’ the deal.

The IABA’s higher echelon includes many true ‘amateurs’ some in their 70’s and 80’s and several of those have been great servants as volunteers but are completely out of touch with the ‘AIBA Boxing’ world of today.

Unfortunately as with many such boxing (and other sports associations) they enjoy their benefits, their trips abroad and the photo calls and media attention at Dublin Airport but in reality they add little value to the Association which enjoys great success internationally thanks almost entirely to the magnificent work of the Irish HPU Coaching team, the boxers and club coaches.

So if finance is NOT the main concern of Billy Walsh and his team, what is?

Two of Ireland’s leading sports journalists summed it up thus:

Vincent Hogan (Irish Independent) : "This story has NEVER been about money.

Walsh is a man who sold his own business in 2003 so that he could work full-time in Irish boxing at a salary reputedly worth half of what he was previously earning.

He is battling, essentially, for the right to do his job without obstruction and administrative hostility, obstacles that have been constant since he took charge of the High Performance Programme following Gary Keegan's departure to the Institute of Sport in 2008.

That battle seems nowhere close to a conclusion.

The IABA's attitude towards High Performance, 12 years after the latter's inception, remains extraordinarily old-world and petty. It is as if they almost resent the kudos falling the way of coaches like Walsh, Zuar Antia and Pete Taylor, not to mention the boxers themselves. There has been a long history of tension between those running boxing’s High Performance and the IABA, a fundamental clash of cultures but news of Walsh’s departure to run the American women’s programme will be seen as an astonishingly reckless price to pay for that tension.”

Keith Duggan: (Irish Times):

It has been reported that beyond financial concerns, Walsh is frustrated with the IABA’s unwillingness to ratify stipulations already agreed in principle.

It may be already too late but if Billy Walsh has not yet signed for the US team, then it behoves the custodians of Irish boxing – and Irish sport – to do everything possible to prevent that from happening. As a matter of honour, his future contract terms should at least match those of the American offer. The conditions must be met by the IABA. If Ireland loses Billy Walsh, it goes down as a national disgrace”.

Leading Irish sporting website SportsNews Ireland reminded its readers that:

“Far too often in recent years, Walsh selected teams for Ireland only to find that that IABA’s Executive Boxing Council disagreed and imposed its own choice .

It is clear that Walsh wanted to change the structure within the H.P.U, something which boxers, coaches and media all believed was necessary and in patiently pursuing such changes for so long,Walsh has shown great loyalty to Irish boxing and its boxers – most others would long since have quit in disgust.

On Saturday Vincent Hogan added : “Given a seemingly endless history of conflict with boxing's governing body here, there must be a growing sense of the British model being the one to follow now.

Sometime after setting up High Performance in the UK, a Government decision was taken to separate it from the British Amateur Boxing Association.

Today, it is High Performance alone - through a head coach and three senior assistants - that selects GB teams for competition. That kind of authority, the right simply to pick Irish teams rather than have selections imposed from above, is at the nub of Billy Walsh's frustration”.

The IABA has further damaged its ‘reputation’, or what little is left of it, by the refusal of its Executive Council to issue any statement on the subject ,not even to their ‘lords and masters’ the Irish Sports Council.

It is only in very exceptional circumstances that a sporting body like the ISC would express strong views in public about one of its own members but such is the anger within the

organisation that late on Friday they issued what in effect was ‘a public warning’ to the IABA with a lengthy official statement part of which we publish here:

“Kieran Mulvey, Chairman of the Irish Sports Council said: "The ISC has been clear and unambiguous in its desire to keep Billy Walsh in Irish sport. We communicated clearly to the IABA that we would provide whatever support is necessary to retain Billy. It was our understanding that a framework and agreement had been reached by all parties. The ISC were surprised and extremely disappointed that the proposal was not presented to the IABA board. We urge the IABA to act quickly and decisively in the matter".

ISC’s CEO John Treacy : "We hammered out an agreement on Saturday and we all shook on it. Then, we received an e-mail on Monday saying that they're not going to the board with the proposal. It's totally different to what we proposed and we're urging the IABA to act decisively," Treacy told RTÉ 2fm's 'Game On' show last night.

"We need to keep that calibre of individual in the country”

As of close of business, Friday 28 August the ISC confirmed that they had received no further correspondence from the IABA.

There has been no comment or statement from the IABA much to the annoyance of not only the ISC but also the boxers, clubs, coaches and fans and the true extent of that anger can be gauged by the fact boxers among them London 2012 and Baku 2015 Captain Darren O’Neill and recent European Gold medallist Michael Conlan have come out with strongly supporting statements supporting Billy Walsh. It is ‘unthinkable’ that in any previous era boxers would have been so bold as to comment publicly.

WBAN did receive a response from U.S. Boxing but that was the expected : ‘USA Boxing has no comment at this time’.

For now our feeling is that nothing has been finalised so there may be some glimmer of hope still for Irish fans that Walsh will remain. It seems likely that this weekend the Irish Sports Council with the full support of the Government’s Minister of Sport Michael Ring TD will, ‘behind the scenes’, be exploring ways in which this matter can be revisited with the IABA and progressed. Will it be too late by then? We think not.

Longer term? The present impasse is damaging for the sport and it would be a huge surprise if there is not a complete overhaul of the boxing scene in Ireland and quite likely significant changes in the way that the IABA operates – those changes would almost certainly mean the resignations voluntarily or otherwise of several senior figures at, if not before, the Annual Congress in Ennis on 4 October. Meantime the clock is ticking away.

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