Irish Olympic hopefuls granted special dispensation to return to training on July 20

St Paul's flyweight Brendan Irvine, who has already secured his spot at Tokyo 2021, will be among the Irish boxers who return to training on July 20. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

IRELAND’S Olympic boxing hopefuls have been granted special dispensation to return to training at the Sport Ireland campus in Abbotstown from July 20.

The Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) has released a document detailing its return to training protocols, with clubs across Ireland allowed to reopen their doors on August 1.

However, the high performance squad will return before then as coaches and boxers build towards next year’s rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Belfast flyweight Brendan Irvine was the only fighter to book his place in Tokyo before the European qualification event back in March ground to a halt after just three days of action.

Aidan Walsh, Michaela Walsh, Kellie Harrington, Christina Desmond, Aoife O’Rourke, George Bates, Michael Nevin and super-heavy Dean Gardiner had all been due to step between the ropes when the Covid-19 pandemic brought an end to proceedings.

European Games champion Kurt Walker and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Carly McNaul both lost out in their opening bouts and, depending on selection, will be among those looking towards next year’s World Olympic qualifier in Paris.

The decision to allow the high performance team back to Abbotstown comes after Peter Sherrard, the chief executive of the Olympic Federation of Ireland, voiced his concern that Irish athletes were being left behind in their preparations for Tokyo 2021 as a result of government restrictions.

2018 World champion Kellie Harrington later admitted “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think we would be a little bit behind”, but the squad will now resume training in three weeks.

“The team will be closely monitored and checked by a team of medical professionals and subject to strict protocols in their return to preparations for qualification events scheduled for Feb/March 2021,” said the IABA statement.

As part of their roadmap for a return to training, the IABA agreed to stick with the start of August for clubs to return “in the interest of solidarity so boxers in the north and south are working on the same timeframe.

“The intervening time will also allow for our clubs to put in place all safety measures and ensure a safe return to sport for all our members.

“In any event, all national championships or international travel for clubs will not be sanctioned by the IABA until at least the start of October 2020 to ensure that all our clubs have an adequate time to prepare for future All-Ireland competition. This date may change subject to relevant health service guidelines.

“The IABA board broadly welcomed the [Irish] government’s €70m emergency sports fund for national governing bodies of sport, local sports partnerships and sports clubs in response to the Covid-19 crisis. We will provide further information on accessing this funding to our clubs as it becomes available as this will hopefully assist our clubs in getting through this very difficult period.

“The board acknowledges the worry and fear that many of our clubs are experiencing at this time and the chairman, president and CEO have agreed as such we will not be running the process of affiliation for the 2020/21 season until November 2020.

“This is being done to give our members adequate time to get back to their clubs and some sense of normality before being asked to enter the affiliation process. All clubs that were affiliated to the IABA in 2019/20 will remain affiliated members and insured until the next round of affiliations.”

The fee for affiliation in 2020/21 will be just under half of last year’s figure “in order to assist clubs to get back to training and competition with as little further financial burden as possible”.

The statement continued: “The board of the IABA will continue to monitor the situation and follow the guidance issued by the health services and other applicable governmental departments. We encourage all members to do likewise.”

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