By Michael O’Neill
Irish boxing is reeling with the shock disclosure that Head Coach Billy Walsh is set to leave the IABA and head for the United States where, from a Colorado base, he would take over, initially, the U.S women’s team and after an interval their men’s team too.
That such a situation has been allowed to arise is by any standards shameful and brings no credit to the IABA Executive/Boxing Council. It is clear that these discussions have been going on for several months and earlier this week the Irish Sports Council
in principle agreed to help fund a remunerations and benefits package that was acceptable to Walsh; indeed the ISC were under the impression following their discussions that the deal would be approved by the IABA at their Tuesday’s meeting.
So how do the Irish mainstream and social media as well as boxers and the boxing community view today’s news?
Here are just a few of the comments :
Michael Conlan via Balls.ie:
“It’s a big loss if it happens, especially before Rio. I only found out from the paper so I was quite surprised when I saw it!
He has been a very important part of the development. Him and Zaur [Antia] together make an amazing team.
I don’t know what direction Irish boxing will go if either of them left.
I don’t think there is many coaches in the country with their knowledge. Billy and Zaur have had a big effect on my career.
They have helped me, along with my father, turn into a world class fighter. I would not like to see either of them leave.
I think they are the backbone of Irish boxing”
Boxing fan Anne Marie O’Connor on Social media via The42.ie:
“The galling thing about all this is that the Sports Council had agreed to fund a pay increase for Billy to keep him here. This isn’t and was never about the money for Billy. It was about respect and autonomy. The fact that IABA, having agreed terms which were to be ratified on Tuesday night, effectively reneged shows what small minded, ego-stroking mandarins they are”
Irish Independent :
“The Irish Sports Council believed that a package had been agreed with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association last weekend to keep Walsh at home and that that package would be brought for ratification to Tuesday night’s IABA board meeting.
This did not happen, however, after the association indicated via email on Tuesday that they had changed their stance on virtually every detail of the package.
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 “.
“We wanted him to stay,” a Sports Council source told The42.
We love Billy. He’s a great coach, a great leader, and there’s other bits of genius built in around that.
“The reason the Americans have come in is because they recognise how good he is.”
To lose Walsh would be a devastating blow for Ireland, who must now take on the prospect of replacing “one of the best coaches in the world” with less than a year to go before the 2016 Olympic Games.
“The Irish Sports Council was under the impression that Walsh had agreed a new deal with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, however that deal fell apart after the association changed their stance on the package.
The offer on the table from the USA is rumoured to be far superior to what Walsh was being offered to stay at home, although Walsh’s decision is not believed to be based on money”.
“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.
No top quality coach will accept such a solution and in so doing for so long Walsh has shown great loyalty to Irish boxing – many others would long since have quit.
The time has come for the Government, the ultimate masters of funding for Irish Sports Council/Sport Ireland to intervene and make a final ‘last minute’ effort to retain Walsh’s services (and those of his team)”.
“Walsh reportedly told the IABA and the Irish Sports Council the deal he was being offered in February and entered negotiations with them to work out a new package.
In addition to his salary, Walsh requested changes to how the programme was run and it is understood that this is the issue that caused a breakdown in the talks”.
There is however nothing new in this situation as the “old men” of the IABA Executive & Boxing Council are reluctant to cede any authority to anyone other than their own ‘close clique’.
IF Walsh goes one can be sure that the ‘chosen one’ will be one of their own.
It is nothing short of a miracle that Billy Walsh and his team including Zuar Antia have been patient for so long. No self-respecting coach would want to have his chosen team to be “vetted” by an “amateur” body with some of those involved in their 70’s and 80’s. There are many in the boxing community in Ireland North and South who want a complete change of leaderships in the organisation.
In the view of this correspondent, there is a very small ‘window of opportunity’ for this unfortunate episode to be brought to a successful conclusion and this should mean that Walsh and his team should receive the pension scheme, health insurance and salary commensurate to their counterparts in countries like the U.S and several others and at the same time external authorities should take steps to ensure that the IABA serves the best interests of Irish sport and if that means the removal of several or all of the Executive Council then so be it.