Boxing

Boxing suspension is taking away my Olympic dream says Commonwealth Games medallist Kristina O'Hara

Kristina O'Hara took home a silver medal from last year's Commonwealth Games in Australia, winning two fights before going toe-to-toe with six-time world champion Mary Kom in the 48kg final. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

COMMONWEALTH Games medallist Kristina O’Hara says her Olympic dream is being ripped away by a suspension that has kept her out of the ring since last September.

The 22-year-old is facing an assault charge, which she intends to contest, relating to an incident outside a Belfast cinema in May 2018 – just a couple of weeks after she had returned home from the Gold Coast with a silver medal around her neck.

A subsequent complaint was made to the Ulster Boxing Council in July, and on September 5 2018 O’Hara and coach Gerard McCafferty – who is also the boxer’s husband – received a letter informing them that they were temporarily “suspended from taking part in boxing activities”, pending further investigation.

McCafferty’s ban was eventually lifted in November but O’Hara’s still stands.

As a result she was unable to enter the Ulster Elite Championships or the Irish Elites, regarded as the first step on the road to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

And, according to the west Belfast woman, that dream has never seemed so far away.

“Gerard’s daddy [Sean McCafferty] fought at flyweight the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964,” said O’Hara, who won Commonwealth silver at 48kg but had intended moving up to flyweight for her Olympic bid.

“Two years ago me and Gerard sat down and mapped out where we were, and where we wanted to be, and that was Tokyo at flyweight.

“If it doesn’t happen now, it won’t happen until 2024. I could be turned pro by then.

It’s mixed emotions – one minute you’re thinking ‘I can’t sit here and let them make me feel that I don’t belong in boxing’.

“I’ve proved it all my life I do belong here. I’m the best there is at my weight and nobody can deny me that.

“Then you might go to training, work hard, do a good session and think ‘what am I even doing that for? I’m not even allowed to fight’.”

The Irish News is aware of one other boxer currently facing criminal proceedings - completely unrelated to the O’Hara case - who competed in the Irish Elite Championships last weekend.

When asked about the situation surrounding O’Hara, Irish Athletic Boxing Association president Dominic O’Rourke insisted the matter was being handled by the Ulster Boxing Council.

O’Hara - who intends to pursue legal action against the provincial body down the line - said she was “shocked” when the initial correspondence arrived the day before she had been due to weigh-in for an open elite competition in Dublin.

And she says the ongoing suspension has had a detrimental effect on her physical and mental health.

“It came as a shock to us,” added O’Hara.

“We were preparing for the All-Irelands, then the night before we got this email saying we were suspended, completely out of the blue.

“I didn’t know what to do. I just assumed if anything was going to happen it would’ve happened already. It ran on from May like, so I just put it to the back of my head.

“I’ve been completely devastated by the whole situation. I haven’t really been sleeping, I’ve hardly eaten anything. I’m just sitting in the house thinking ‘I could’ve been doing this or I could’ve been doing that’. One thought just leads to another and then you’re thinking ‘what are they doing this to me for?’

“I thought that after the amount of time and dedication that I’ve shown to boxing over the years that they would’ve at least given me a chance to give my side of the story… I’ve been boxing since I was 11, I’m 23 in April.

“I’ve 14 Irish titles. I spent half my childhood and my teenage years in Dublin boxing, giving your time up to go down to pay their wages and get them medals when you go abroad, they just throw it back in your face.

“I just don’t feel that it’s been handled right whatsoever,” she continued.

“There’s not one person who has got in touch with me or said anything… even just that wee bit of support from anyone. You were kicked to the kerb and left there.

“I suffer from depression, I have done for years, but nothing has ever hurt me more than this. I can only try my best to overcome all of this and get back to doing what I do best.”

ULSTER BOXING COUNCIL RESPONSE

“THE Ulster Boxing Council are not in a position to respond in detail regarding individual cases, particularly when there are outstanding legal proceedings.

We can advise however that the Ulster Boxing Council have robust procedures in line with IABA guidelines in relation to disciplinary matters.

All complaints are dealt with in line with these guidelines and support offered to relevant parties when appropriate.”

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