Ulster Council urged to look after young boxers following elites entry age change

St Paul's star Dylan Eagleson had been intending to enter the upcoming Ulster Elite Championships but is no longer eligible after the entry criteria changed at the last minute. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

THE Ulster Council has been urged to afford all young boxers the same opportunity to qualify for next year’s Commonwealth Games, following a last-minute change to the entry criteria for the upcoming Ulster Elite Championships.

Training camps with Commonwealth hopefuls took place at the Ulster High Performance unit in Jordanstown over the Hallowe’en weekend, with the initial plan to allow boxers born in 2003 to enter as they would be eligible to compete in Birmingham next summer.

However, just over a week away from the beginning of the Ulster Elite Championships at Girdwood Community Hub - which will form part of the Commonwealths selection process – clubs were notified that this was no longer the case.

“It is with disappointment that we must inform you that we have been forced to change the entry criteria for the Ulster elites,” read an Ulster Council statement.

“This year's entry ages are now 1979-2002 (not exceeding 40 years). We initially as a council had agreed to give special dispensation to 2003 boxers who had reached the age of 18 years. We had a request of entry for a 2003 boxer to enter who had not reached the age of 18 years by the weigh-in date of the championships.

“After discussions with the insurance company we have now been made aware we must stick within the rules set out by AIBA in order to be covered by insurance, and thus meaning the minimum age for entry to an elite competition in 2021 is the year 2002.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause or have caused, but this decision has not been taken lightly. We must respect the rules set out and also take into consideration what we are insured to do.”

This has caused frustration in some quarters, not least for some boxers who had been building up to the competition with an eye on Birmingham.

Holy Trinity’s Clepson dos Santos is the boxer referenced in the Ulster Council statement, as he does not turn 18 until two weeks after the weigh-ins, which take place at Belfast’s Lansdowne Hotel on Sunday.

Diarmuid Bradley and Tiarnan O’Neill are among other Holy Trinity boxers who are now ineligible for the Ulster Elites as a consequence of the 2002 ruling, alongside several others across the country including Dylan Eagleson of St Paul’s and Gleann’s former European junior bronze medallist Martin McCullough.

Some have suggested that the Ulster Council should have held off on running the championships until January to avoid any such issue.

However, as part of the preparation for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, an Ireland and Ulster team will be travelling out to the US Olympic base in Colorado Springs, where former Irish head coach Billy Walsh is currently overseeing a major upturn in American fortunes.

According to an earlier circular from the provincial body, this trip will take place “in early January”, leaving club coaches wondering where those born in 2003 now stand.

Holy Trinity coach Michael Hawkins jr believes it is up to the Ulster Council to ensure those boxers are not left out in the cold, and are also given their chance to impress.

“We were originally told they were going to allow 2003 boxers into the championships, then it was that boxers had to be 18 by the day of the weigh-in, which ruled out Clepson,” he said.

“If the championships had been scheduled for January, we wouldn’t have this problem. I asked why the Ulster championships couldn’t be moved, but was told everything was already booked and paid for.

“Boxers were told during the training camp at Hallowe’en that the team would be picked in December and in full-time training by January. As things are, for these 2003s, how or where are they going to get the chance to impress? Where is their chance to qualify for the Commonwealths?

“Every boxer in that age group is entitled to a shot at qualification for the Commonwealth Games, and if the clubs think they’re good enough to compete then there should be some kind of opening there for them from the Ulster Council.

“I’m sure they’ll look at this and come up with something solid. As long as these kids are taken into full consideration… they have to be prepared to do something – should it be a box-off in certain weights or whatever it takes.

“A lot of those 2003 boxers would be in with a shout of qualification and deserve that opportunity. The kids have to be looked after because this is not their fault.

“This isn’t about the Ulster Council versus the clubs or anything like that, it’s about making sure those kids get their opportunity. They have to have something there for them, to foster and develop them. Right now, they are in limbo.

“Hopefully when the dust settles they’ll come up with some sound suggestions.”

Ulster Council secretary Charlie Toland said the provincial body was "absolutely gutted" by this recent development, but insisted all was not lost for those unable to enter the Ulster elites.

"We're devastated that the insurance company has removed permission for the 03s.

"Unfortunately, due to the Covid situation and having already pre-booked venues, we have to go ahead with this.

"But the Commonwealth policy allows athletes born in 2003 to be considered, so this absolutely isn't the end of their journey in terms of consideration for the Commonwealth Games.

"The Ulster Council has been in consultation with [Ulster High Performance head coach] John Conlan about planning to evaluate these kids in very early January."

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