High-Performance Director Bernard Dunne Offers No World Championships Clarification

Ireland’s World Championships participation remains a thing of mystery.

It has yet to be confirmed whether or not the IABA will select and send a team to the prestigious tournament later this month.

In fact, when breaking the radio silence surrounding the World Championships when speaking to RTE, High Performance Director Bernard Dunne said the only thing he could confirm was that a team will attend a sparring camp in Sheffield this week.

The tournament begins in Belgrade on 26 October but question marks remain over whether any Irish boxers will be there.

Differing rumours have Ireland sending a small team of fighters with International experience or no team at all.

Either way the men’s World Championships are due to glove off late this month in the Serbian capital and, less two weeks out, it remains unsure whether or not Ireland will send a team.

The IABA did confirm before the recent National Elite Championships that they had received special dispensation from AIBA to delay their submission of a team – thereby reasonably suggesting that a team would be sent.

Countries were initially handed a September 20th deadline for team submission, which may have caused issues for the IABA as the National Elite Championships were not to be completed until the first weekend in October. However, the governing body confirmed that “Following dialogue with the World Body by the National Secretary Paddy Gallagher, the IABA have received a dispensation until the completion of our Championships to enter Irish boxers.”

The ‘Seniors’ finished up just over a week ago and boxers have been up Abbottstown for ‘assessment’ and a number of Irish boxers have travelled to England this weekend for a training camp in Sheffield. However, many within the sport are spreading word that no team will be sent on to Serbia afterwards.

Chris McNulty has reported Boxers at the IABA’s High Performance Unit (HPU) were informed on Wednesday that an Irish team would not be sent to the championships in Belgrade and that some within the IABA are ‘scrambling’ to rescue the matter.

The suggestion seems to be the High Performance Unit are concerned with regard to the possible make up of the team. Last Saturday week produced a lot of young and new champions and it’s said that Irish selectors and coaches feel, from a fighter confidence and safety point of view, a lot of those are not experienced enough for top-end International tournaments. Additionally, a lack of preparation time in comparison to other nations over the past 18 months due to harsh lockdown restrictions in Ireland has been cited.

The rumours suggest that, while many within the IABA are in favour of sending a team, the High Performance Unit want to see multi-nations used as stepping stones to the likes of the Worlds and European for a new emerging crop. This, in turn, would also give the coaches more time to work with them and shape them.

The counter-argument alerts to the risk of talented young amateurs turning pro if they don’t get the chance to trade leather on the biggest amateur stage. Those in favour of sending a team suggest there are enough names with enough experience to go, while noting that the only way for the others to gain major tournament experience is to travel and fight in major tournaments. Additionally, while acknowledging that Ireland has perhaps been somewhat left behind this past year-and-a-half, refusing to send a team to the Worlds will widen this gap.

It’s also been pointed out that a fighter is as likely, if not more likely, to meet tough opposition early on in a multi-nations. Depending on the draw you could get a weaker fighter at the Worlds register a win or two on the international stage, build confidence and profile while getting exposure to the occasion.

No doubt the champions will feel they have earned the right to go and if not sent a lot will be bemoaning the fact they were denied a chance challenge for a medal and the substantial prize money – not to mention the potential to earn funding from Sport Ireland should they reach certain benchmarks at the tournament.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Ireland’s participation at major tournaments at all levels has been varied. The restarted Olympic qualifier in Paris saw seven spots confirmed for Tokyo – where Kellie Harrington and Aidan Walsh went on to medal. Then there was also the European U22 Championships in Italy where Dean Clancy, Adam Hession, and Jack Marley medalled. However no teams were sent to the 2020 World Youths, the 2020 European Youths, the 2020 and 2021 European Juniors, or the 2021 European Schoolboys/Girls.

The Women’s World Championships are set for Istanbul later this year and their status within this discussion is also unclear.

The tournament in Belgrade will be the 21st edition of Worlds and Ireland have been represented at the Championships all but once – in 1978 no boxers were sent to the tournament which was, coincidentally, also in Belgrade.

Again it has to be stated there has been no confirmation either way regarding the Men’s World Championships and amidst all the strong ‘no team’ rumours, talk of a ‘small team’ has also been floated.

The one thing that can be taken from the latest drama, without doubt, is that the divide within the organisation continually damages the sport and its image in particular.

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