Sport

Amateur boxing in Ireland will 'die a death' if Olympic exclusion goes ahead warns former head coach Billy Walsh

Billy Walsh was Irish head coach at the successful Olympic Games of 2008 and 2012, and fears amateur boxing would 'die a death' if the sport is excluded from the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Picture by Pat Murphy
Billy Walsh was Irish head coach at the successful Olympic Games of 2008 and 2012, and fears amateur boxing would 'die a death' if the sport is excluded from the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Picture by Pat Murphy

AMATEUR boxing will “die a death” in Ireland if the sport is excluded from the Olympic Games, according to former Irish head coach Billy Walsh.

The Wexford man made that stark prediction amid growing fears that boxing will be left out of the 2020 Games in Tokyo, with governing body AIBA and the International Olympic Council (IOC) seemingly on a collision course that could have dire consequences for the sport.

It follows confirmation on Wednesday that Gafur Rakhimov was the only nominee for the AIBA presidency, with the IOC having previously warned against his strong links to organised crime in his native Uzbekistan.

The 67-year-old has been acting as interim president since January, but his permanent election is now set to be confirmed at the AIBA congress in Moscow on November 2-3 as no other candidates made the election deadline.

At an executive board meeting in Buenos Aires on Wednesday night, the IOC stated that boxing’s Olympic future is “under threat” as a result of the “grave situation” within AIBA.

And Walsh, who is currently building towards Tokyo with his USA team, believes boxing’s removal from the Olympics could signal the end for the amateur game.

“It would be absolutely disastrous,” said Walsh, who boxed at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and was in the Irish corner for successful Games at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

“Amateur boxing would be all but finished - we’d all be looking for new jobs. Lots of sporting organisations and federations around the world would have to shut down.

“In Ireland, 90 per cent of the funding comes from the government – that would be gone straight away. When you look at the great success we’ve had, I think it would die a death and that would be very sad to see

“We all follow our dreams and, without the Olympic Games, amateur boxing is dead. It was my dream to go there and compete, I was fortunate enough to do that and it was the greatest time of my life.

“For me, the Olympic Games would never be the same if boxing was not in it. It wouldn’t be the Olympic Games any more.”

The IOC has offered some hope that boxing could still be organised independently in time for Tokyo, should AIBA fail to meet their standards of reform.

However, with a complete overhaul of the qualification process likely to create huge scheduling difficulties, this route appears unfeasible.

With 15 medals going back to John McNally’s silver at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, boxing has been Ireland’s greatest Olympic success story, and its exclusion would be a hammer blow heading towards Tokyo.

Despite his concerns, Walsh – world coach of the year in 2016 - remains hopeful that a resolution can be reached.

“Boxing is a cornerstone of the Olympic movement and hopefully sense will be seen,” he added.

“I’d hope that if they’re able to get over the stuff that happened in Rio and change their ways in terms of referees and judges, trying to clean all that up, they should be able to do the same here.

“If this one guy [Rakhimov] is the problem, he should not be bigger than the sport. If he has any love for the sport, he would make the right decision somewhere along the road.

“If they are talking about banishing boxing from the Olympic Games, he should actually put himself out of the race, for the sake of the sport and the hundreds of thousands of kids who are in clubs across the world.”