Boxing must be at Olympics beyond Paris insists Irish HP director

Sport’s Olympic future under threat amid ongoing power struggle

IABA High Performance director Tricia Heberle and head coach Zaur Antia were with the Irish squad at the Strandja multi-nations tournament
IABA High Performance director Tricia Heberle, centre, admits she would be 'very worried' if boxing lost its Olympic status

BOXING must be at the Olympics beyond Paris 2024 in order to preserve the dreams of young hopefuls across Ireland, says Irish high performance director Tricia Heberle.

A 10-strong team is currently at a training camp in Germany as, with just three weeks to go until the opening ceremony, excitement builds towards the start of the Games.

However, the sport’s Olympic future remains shrouded in doubt post-Paris, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insisting it won’t organise the boxing tournament at Los Angeles 2028.

With the IOC stripping the International Boxing Association (IBA) of its status last year, fledgling body World Boxing hopes it can come to the rescue.

Thirty-three national federations have aligned with World Boxing since its formation 15 months ago, and last week the influential Asian Boxing Federation called an extraordinary congress for the end of next month to decide what direction to go - but time is fast running out.

Last year members of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) voted to remain under the auspices of the IBA, rather than join World Boxing, leaving Ireland’s Olympic future in jeopardy unless that decision is reversed.

And Tricia Heberle admits she would be “really worried for Irish boxing” if the sport was to lose its Olympic status.

“So many young kids aspire to go to the Olympic Games,” she said.

“We go out into club environments and there’s Olympic rings everywhere, and if you talk to any of these athletes, many of them started off as young kids in a club with a dream to go to the Olympics.

“Many of the girls started boxing off the back of Katie Taylor’s success. Many of the athletes we have got representing Ireland in youth and junior events at the moment, Kellie Harrington or Aoife O’Rourke are their heroes.

“Similarly on the men’s side, you talk to the boys, and it could be about Kenny Egan or Paddy Barnes, any number that was successful at the Olympics. Boxing will always survive, but there’s just something very special about boxing in the Olympic Games, for Ireland in particular, it’s the most successful sport.

“When you talk to the kids, they’re not talking about going to the European Games or European Championships. Yeah, they’re representing their country, but there’s a strong Olympic focus.

“We need to be at the Olympics and our board, our central council, the membership have to make that decision.”

Even if Ireland’s boxers are in Los Angeles, though, Heberle won’t be.

The former Australian hockey player revealed her current role will be her last, with plans already afoot to return Down Under at the start of next year – leaving Ireland searching for a new high performance director.

There has been some speculation that current USA head coach Billy Walsh could be among the contenders to return to the role he left in 2015. However, it is understood that will not be the case.

“There’s always a lot of things coming out the back of the Olympics and we’re already planning for that,” said Heberle.

“I’m certainly sticking around to run the debrief, and that involves interviewing all the athletes, all the staff and trying to bring together a really good report of the good, the bad and the ugly.

“We need to also make sure that we’ve got a plan going forward into 2025… we do need to recruit a high performance director going forward - if my board want me to be part of that, I’ll be part of that.”