Seconds Out: Political in-fighting overshadows action as Ireland step up Olympic qualifier preparations
THERE was a further window into the conflict at the very top of amateur boxing as Ireland landed six gold medals and one silver at the Ústí nad Labem Grand Prix tournament in the Czech Republic over the weekend.
Although Irish teams will attend Germany’s Feliks Stamm tournament (May 21-27) and the Eindhoven Cup (May 26-30), this was the last competitive outing for what looks certain to be the 12-strong squad travelling to the European Games in Poland next month – the first step on the road to Paris 2024.
But the action between the ropes was overshadowed by machinations behind the scenes, with the Czech Boxing Association (CBA) proceeding with the tournament despite the European Boxing Association (EUBA) urging participating federations to abandon the event, due to the involvement of USA Boxing.
Last month the USA announced that it had terminated its membership of the InternationaL Boxing Association (IBA) to join rival global governing body World Boxing, whose aim is to preserve the sport's Olympic future after it was left off the initial programme for Los Angeles 2028 amid an ongoing feud between the IBA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
As a result of the EUBC’s correspondence, Brazil, South Korea, Poland and France – all of whom have boxers competing in the IBA’s men’s World Championships, currently taking place in Uzbekistan – decided to leave the tournament for fear of any possible ramifications on athletes at the Worlds.
The knock-on effect at the Ústí nad Labem Grand Prix was plenty of byes and walkovers as the competition found itself in a state of flux, with Belfast’s Michaela Walsh receiving a double walkover in the semi-final after potential opponents from Brazil and France withdrew.
On Monday, the Inside The Games website reported that a complaint has been registered with the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit (BIIU) against all nations who participated in the Czech Republic - meaning the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) could face sanctions, though their place at the European Olympic qualifier is not in doubt as the IOC has constantly reminded the IBA it has no involvement in it.
In the ring, meanwhile, it was the Irish women who led the way on the medal front.
Walsh put aside the semi-final confusion to defeat the USA’s Alyssa Mendoza in the featherweight final, while Olympic champion Kellie Harrington edged past Sweden’s Agnes Alexiussion on a 3-2 split in the lightweight decider.
Two-time European champion Aoife O’Rourke and bantamweight Jennifer Lehane picked up gold medals without having to step inside the ring, while Dublin’s Jack Marley topped the podium after his Polish opponent withdrew from the light-heavyweight final.
Light-welterweight Dean Clancy gave further evidence of his progress with four impressive victories, including in Sunday’s final against Slovakia’s Villain Tanko. Flyweight Daina Moorehouse lost a 3-2 decision against experienced Ukrainian Tetiana Kob in her gold medal fight, but the Wicklow fighter brings home silver.
World light-welterweight champion Amy Broadhurst had been due to compete in the Czech Republic, only for a chest infection to rule her out on the eve of the competition.
Irish head coach Zaur Antia was satisfied with the outcome, and with Ireland’s European Games preparations during a 10-day training camp in Germany before travelling to Usti.
And, having worked at close quarters with the Georgian since joining the Ulster and Irish set-up, coach Damian Kennedy has nothing but praise for Antia’s role in Ireland’s rise up the rankings.
“I couldn’t praise that man highly enough,” he said.
“He’s an unbelievable coach - the best coach I’ve ever been around. His creativity is incredible. He pulls stuff out that would blow your mind, his technical and tactical knowledge is second to none, and he’s a very good people person as well, great wit about him too but serious when he needs to be serious.
“I’ve never come across anybody like him, and everything that he brought to Ireland, I see other coaches using it – I see America using it, Germany using it, because of Zaur’s influence.”
HEBERLE APPOINTED TO IABA HIGH PERFORMANCE ROLE
A YEAR after Bernard Dunne resigned from his role with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), Tricia Heberle has been confirmed as Irish boxing’s new high performance consultant.
An Olympian, having played for the Australia hockey team at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, Heberle went on to become a hockey coach – managing both Australia and England between 194 and 2004 - and has been a high performance administrator in Australia, England and Ireland for almost 20 years.
She was the Irish team’s Chef de Mission at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and, according to an IABA statement, joins “with a deep understanding of the Irish high performance system, and a wealth of experience in strategy, planning, logistics, co-ordination and communication.”
Heberle takes up her new role as Irish boxers prepare for next month’s European Games in Poland, which represent a first opportunity to qualify for Paris 2024. A 12-strong team has been nominated, and awaits Sport Ireland ratification.
According to the IABA, Heberle “will conduct structural and process reviews within the unit, from a boxing administration perspective, and will assist and support HPU coaching staff, led by Zauri Antia, in preparing for the European Games, and ultimately, for Paris 2024”.
“I’m looking forward to working in Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport, having had the pleasure of working with head coach Zauri Antia and the team during the Tokyo Olympic cycle,” she said.
“The potential in this team is extraordinary, and my role will be to strengthen the support structures around the team, to help coaches to enable them to achieve their Olympic goals.”
And Antia is looking forward to working alongside the new high performance consultant in the years ahead.
“We know Tricia very well,” said the Georgian.
“She was of great support to us before and during the Tokyo Games. I’m looking forward to welcoming her to boxing, and to working with her to support boxers from clubs all over Ireland to the highest possible level.”
IABA interim chair, Tom Geraghty, added: “Tricia’s invaluable experience will augment the excellence in boxing so evident in IABA’s high performance unit.
“IABA has enormous confidence in head coach Zauri Antia and the HPU coaches given their incredible record, and confidence in Tricia to assist the unit in moving to the next level.”