An Irish WSB Team? Part One
By Joseph O’Neill follow Joe on Twitter @joe_90
Thursday night saw the opening round of matches in the World Series of Boxing. The previous day double Olympic bronze medalist Paddy Barnes had outlined the need for an Irish franchise in the tournament. He argued that “we are among the best in the world at the moment but it still feels like we are punching above our weight, the WSB will give our amateur boxers a professional edge.”
What is the WSB?
Firstly, a quick explanation for anyone not well-versed on the WSB. Now in it’s 5th season, it is essentially a team-based semi-professional boxing league. Each of the 16 franchises, spread across the globe and split into two groups of 8, have 14 regular season matches before the best ranked teams advance to the play-offs. The fights are pro-style, fought over five 3-minute rounds with no vests and smaller gloves. Boxers are drawn from the country which hosts the franchise and through an international draft (over 20 different Irish boxers have availed of this draft across the 5 seasons).
Fighter’s are paid a monthly salary of roughly €850-€2,500 plus expenses and can receive fight bonuses of up to €1,750. Crucially though, they still retain their amateur eligibility and are able to box in all other major international tournaments. This season has added importance as there are 17 Olympic berths for the top ranked individual boxers.
Could Ireland have a WSB team?
In short, probably not. When describing how the team would be funded Barnes stated that “Maybe it’s the Irish Government or the Irish Sports Council who have to take the opportunity, or maybe a big brand could do it.” Sadly, considering the current sports funding landscape in Ireland, Barnes’s calls look likely to fall on deaf ears.
In 2014 The Irish Sports Council granted €830,000 in elite funding to amateur boxing. This was the highest amount paid to any sport. It would seem unlikely that the ISC would increase this to the multiple millions that setting up a WSB franchise would require. Regarding sponsorship, Dolce and Gabbana Italia Thunder have shown that this is a possible route but there are murmurings of a lack of profitability that would turn-off many large scale sponsors.
Should Ireland have a WSB team?
Obviously we at irish-boxing.com come from a biased point of view but there is a strong case to be made that amateur boxing should be funded to a level that is representative of its international success. This currently occurs to a degree but it could be argued that it is still not enough when compared to the other best amateur boxing nations in the world. We are nicknamed ‘the Cuba of Europe,’ but boxing is still considered a minority sport.
This is despite the fact that since the creation of the high performance unit in 2003, amateur boxing’s position as Ireland’s most successful sport has been thoroughly cemented. In the last 16 major international tournaments spanning back to the 2007 EUs in Dublin (Olympics, Worlds, Europeans, EUs, Commonwealths), Ireland has won a frankly incredible 60 medals (20gold, 19silver, 21bronze).
However, amateur boxing is changing and Ireland is at risk of being left behind. As can be seen with the 17 Olympic berths for the WSB (and a further 20 for AIBA Pro Boxing), the sports governing body (AIBA) is moving its focus away from traditional tournaments and more towards iterations more closely resembling professional
Barnes realises the dangers of not adapting to change, stating that “Ireland badly needs a franchise team in the World Series of Boxing if our boxers are to continue the progress they have displayed over the past number of years” and that “the WSB will give our boxers a professional edge.”
Despite these changing tides and the undoubted benefit to Irish boxing that a franchise would bring, an Irish WSB team still seems very unlikely. This will see Ireland hard pushed to replicate their successes of recent years in amateur boxing, especially at Olympic level.
Keep an eye out for part 2 where we consider an alternate reality were an Irish team in the WSB actually existed. What would it be like and who would be on it?