The Irish Amateur Boxing Association must have felt yesterday like it was in the midst of the final thirty seconds of Katie Taylor’s fight against Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden.

They were on the ropes after Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers delivered a strong warning on governance in an interview with Claire Byrne on RTÉ.

Then they came out swinging with two medals guaranteed for Lisa O’Roulrke and Amy Broadhurst at the World Championships in Turkey.

They took more punishment as Michaela Walsh and Carly McNaul exited at the quarter-final stage and then came back to the centre of the ring last night with a statement that they would publish an implementation timeline in line with the ministers wishes, so long as reforms were approved by the sport.

That is some day in the life of any sporting body.

The Minister pulled no punches when speaking to RTÉ’s Byrne in the morning about the issues that led up to the resignation last week of High-Performance Director Bernard Dunne.

An independent review of IABA governance has suggested 64 reforms in total, including a new Board which would include six of twelve members drawn from independent candidates.

The report will be put to an extraordinary general meeting of the Association in June and the pressure is obvious about what the Government feels needs to happen.

“We cannot and will not be funding behaviour like this and governance disfunction. I want to see boxing fully embrace and support the recommendations in the review.”

“They will have to produce an implementation plan within three months at the latest.”

“The anonymous and malicious document right before the Olympics undermining Bernard Dunne and the High-Performance Unit was frankly a disgrace.”

“We have a high-performance strategy which we have approved as a government which puts directors and units at the heart of every sporting organisation. That applies to boxing.”

“I absolutely share the concerns of Billy Walsh and Bernard Dunne and that is why I am saying as a bottom line there will have to be a full implementation of the recommendations as outlined.”

In a statement issued last night, the IABA said that it was “acutely aware of the need for reform in the volunteer structures of the association.”

“The Minister’s comments today will serve to focus minds on the gravity of the choice facing Irish boxing – to evolve into an association with the highest standards of governance or to reject reform and face damaging constraints on our sport.”

“The scale of reform recommended in the report is profound and impacts virtually all areas of operation of the volunteer structures of the association.”

“The governance report was shared with all boxing clubs, county boards and provincial units on May 10th, in preparation for our forthcoming EGM. In that sharing, the IABA has placed particular, but not exclusive, emphasis on the reform of the structure of the association’s board, and its expansion to include additional independent members, from which the implementation of all other reforms will flow.”

“This matter will be put before members at the EGM and members will be asked to initially support the changes within the Teneo Governance review of IABA 2022 in relation to the board. That is, that all recommendations that are set out in the review on the constitution of the board of IABA are accepted.”

“If the recommendations are adopted by the members at the EGM, the IABA will be engaging, fully, with all monitoring and change management structures applied by Sport Ireland. IABA also commits to publishing an implementation plan within the timescale outlined by the Minister today.”

“IABA’s ability to implement the required reforms is contingent upon a democratic ballot of boxing clubs and their members. IABA is already aware of staunch opposition among some long-standing volunteer members to the primary recommendations proposed in the review.”

“The IABA hopes that the minister’s comments today on the immediacy and severity of financial sanctions will give those members pause and motivate them to think about what is in the best interests of the sport they love.”

Sport is run on the basis of the volunteer support that makes sure the facilities are open on time, the participants are prepared to compete and the competitions take place as outlined.

There is no financial reward for volunteers putting in the hours but the unstated rule is that as you progress through the sport that there is a status conferred upon you in terms of positions of authority.

When it works it works well but sport is ever-changing and the amount of money put into it from the government through Sport Ireland demands that standards are set across multiple different areas, many seen as overly bureaucratic by sporting volunteers.

This in many ways is the old story of the immovable object up against the irresistible force. If there is no agreement on the best way forward then it goes to an independent adjudication of what could work taking into account the world outside the ‘bubble’ of an individual sport. That is what has now been put to the boxing fraternity. There will be some who feel they can tough it out and carry on in the way they have previously. Clearly, that is not the view of the Government and neither is it the view of the executive of the IABA.

As in boxing, there is always the risk of damage being done in order to get a result, but there will always be a result.

Minister Chambers said that “Boxing and members of boxing have a clear choice if they want to embrace reform. If they don’t embrace it in the timelines outlined, it will have an impact on their core funding as an organisation, including for capital and equipment grants.”

It has been our most successful Olympic Sport but now it stands on the precipice.




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