2021 National Elites Championships take on serious Olympic significance

The IABA have confirmed the National Elite Championships, cautiously penciled in for January 2021, will play a part in Olympic team selection.

With the Tokyo Olympics pushed back a year it has opened up the door for a host of fighters to throw their hat in the Olympic ring.

The team selected for the European qualifiers, which were cancelled mid tournament in London in March, will remain the same and those still in that competition will be handed the chance to qualify regardless.

However, there could be places up for grabs in the second qualifying tournament at the weights where fighters don’t qualify via the European route.

That according to the IABA makes the next installment of the National Elites very important. The Board of Directors confirmed over the weekend the blue ribbon domestic tournament would be used as a selection aid.

“The priority in terms of competitive boxing for the IABA will be sharply focussed on preparation of our team for the Tokyo Olympic Games, and our National Elite Championships which are scheduled to take place in January 2021 in the National stadium will be used as an aide to selection in finalising our team.”

Using the Elites as a selection aid would appear a given, but there was a lot of upset surrounding the last installment of the eagerly anticipated tournament.

The competition was thrown into controversy following the withdrawal of SEVEN of the biggest names on the entry list.

When the full draw was confirmed it became apparent that Kelly Harrington, Brendan Irvine, Kurt Walker, James McGivern, Gabriel Dossen, Michael Nevin, and Dean Gardiner had all withdrawn.

All seven have suffered injury but had entered the 2020 competition before being omitted from the draw.

The tournament had been built as a crucial week for Irish boxing, with spots on the team for the Olympic Qualifiers on the line – indeed, the championships had been brought forward from February 2020 to fit this timeline.

However, sadly, what was meant to be the highest quality ‘Seniors’ lost a lot of its shine.

The IABA clarified that champions are not automatically entitled to a spot on the plane to any of the major tournaments but that boxers must enter the National Championships to be eligible for selection – which the withdrawn seven did.

There were calls for box offs if any of the injured seven were selected for the qualifiers, but none materialized, with behind-doors test spars used to determine selection.

Currently selection is completely in the hands of the High Performance Unit – with the IABA at large having a voice at the table but no actual voting power.

The selection situation has long been an issue, with a spectrum of views on how teams should be selected, and most will be happy to see the National Elites will be used to play a part this time around.

Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com