Could Ireland have a shock fourth boxer qualified for Rio 2016?

**Disclaimer: All information contained below is purely speculation based upon our current knowledge of the AIBA Olympic Boxing qualification system. None of these claims have been confirmed by either the IABA or the AIBA. While we have strived to ensure that the following piece is correct, the AIBA have shown during this qualification process that they are not beyond changing the qualification criteria**

During the recent World Championships in Doha, Qatar, Ireland qualified a third boxer for next year’s Olympics in Rio. Light heavyweight Joe Ward joined bantamweight Mick Conlan and light flyweight Paddy Barnes, who qualified via the WSB, on the plane to Brazil by virtue of his silver medal in the Gulf state.

A fourth boxer, middleweight Michael O’Reilly, was robbed of a place following a truly shocking decision in his Olympic box-off with Egypt’s Hossan Abdin. However, it is our understanding that, should decisions in Russia go our way, Ulster welterweight Steven Donnelly may now find himself qualified for Rio via his WSB 4th place finish.

Final-ish Standings
At welterweight, so far, there have been 7 Olympic positions available via the WSB (2), the APB (2), and the World Championships (3). The final standings in each of these competitions are as follows:

World Series of Boxing (Spring 2015):
1st – Mohammad Rabii (Morocco)
2nd – Radzhab Butaev (Russia)

3rd – Parviz Baghirov (Azerbaijan)
4th – Steven Donnelly (Ireland)*

Indeed Donnelly was originally cruelly denied an automatic place at Rio due to a visa mix-up which prevented him from participating in one of his fights, thus leaving him at a disadvantage and playing catch-up throughout the campaign.
*Donnelly and Baghirov finished level on points. Baghirov placed third by virtue of his superior rounds difference.

AIBA Professional Boxing (Winter 2014-Summer 2015):
1st – Önder Şipal (Turkey)
2nd – Andrey Zamkovoy (Russia)

3rd – Gyula Kate (Hungary)

World Championships (October 2015)
1st – Mohammad Rabii (Morocco)
2nd – Daniyar Yeleussinov (Kazakhstan)
3rd – Liu Wei (China)

4th – Parviz Baghirov (Azerbaijan)

The Confusing Parts
As you may notice, Morocco’s Mohammad Rabii has fulfilled Rio qualification criteria in both the WSB and the World Championships. Initially it was thought that, as his place was secure from the WSB, were he to fulfill qualification criteria again in Doha that the Rio slot would move down to the boxer who came fourth in these Championships. This proved to be incorrect. It then was believed that if a boxer fulfilled qualification twice that his national federation could choose which slot that they will avail of.

Both these options gave Ireland varying levels of hope that Michael O’Reilly could be granted a spot in Brazil. However, the AIBA then later announced that if a boxer qualified through the WSB/APB and the World Championships, that he would be forced to avail of the World Championships slot. Thus, this confirmed that O’Reilly, who finished 4th in Doha, will have to qualify via the qualifiers next year.

This change however has increased the chances of Donnelly securing himself a shock slot at the 31st Olympiad. With Rabii forced to take his World Championships slot, his WSB slot has moved to the 3rd place boxer in this season’s tournament – Parviz Baghirov of Azerbaijan. If we are correct, a favourable decisions by the powers-that-be in Russia will therefore grant Ballymena’s 4th placed Donnelly a spot in Brazil.

As we understand, it is set in stone that Rabii (WC), Yeleussinov (WC), Wei (WC), Baghirov (WSB), and Şipal (APB) are guaranteed spots in Rio. However, again as you may have noticed, Russia have ‘qualified’ boxers in both the WSB (Radzhab Butaev) and the APB (Andrey Zamkovoy). As they are unable to send both boxers, Russia will have to decide, either arbitrarily or through a box-off, which of the pair to send.

Here’s where it gets interesting
If Russia send Zamkovoy (APB), it would appear that Butaev’s WSB-obtained Olympic slot will sensationally move down to WSB 4th placed boxer Donnelly.
On the other hand, if Russia send Butaev (WSB), then Zamkovoy’s APB-obtained Olympic slot will move down to APB 3rd placed boxer Gyula Kate of Hungary – who Irish fans may remember as the man John Joe Joyce defeated in his opening fight at the Beijing Olympics.

irish-boxing.com are obviously hopeful that the more-experienced Zamkovoy will be chosen. The 28 year old is a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist (Indeed he beat Donnelly’s rival Adam Nolan en-route to the semis in London), as well as being a 2009 World Championships silver medalist.

Butaev was deservedly beaten by Nolan in a shock upset at the Last 16 of the European Championships in Samokov during the Summer.

Videos of both Russian boxers are freely available on YouTube if fans wish to compare the duo’s styles and skills.

Russia have until December 4th to make any decision regarding which boxer they send so it could be a nail-biting six weeks ahead for all involved.

Hold your Horses
Again, for any Donnelly fans, we would not be packing our sun-cream and sandals or booking tickets just yet. As the AIBA have shown, rules can be rewrote and reinterpreted. However, as is our current understanding, if Russia choose their APB-qualified boxer over their WSB-qualified boxer it would seem that Steven Donnelly would secure himself a slot in South America – indeed it would be the slice of good fortune he deserves.

irish-boxing.com have been in contact with Donnelly about the situation and, after administrative mishaps in the past, the 27 year old is taking nothing for granted. The All Saints man is currently in preparation for the WSB/APB crossover qualifying event next May in Sofia – if indeed the above scenarios do not fall in his favour.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie