Still work to do

06 September 2008 – by Cormac Cambell

Despite one or two setbacks in the past 12 months, the glass is beginning to overflow for Irish boxing.

A blossoming professional scene can only be bolstered by the Beijing success of Messrs Barnes, Egan and Sutherland – and that is a supposition that holds firm whether or not our Olympians elect to ditch their vests and headguards.

The coverage the sport has received from the mainstream press in recent weeks has been nothing short of unprecedented. But laurels are not for resting on and as such much hard work has to be done if the amateur and professional codes are to retain this support.

The IABA is at a point where their High Performance Unit is among the most envied in the entire amateur boxing world. We have it right in the ring – however, there is a real need for the amateur sport to be promoted out of it with more vigour and to use a rather crude wordprofessionalism.

There is no excuse for empty seats at the National Stadium for internationals or major championships and one can only assume that so many exist because nobody has been appointed to push tickets to clubs and the general public. A simple task providing pricing is flexible.

Full houses attract the attention of the media – newspapers, radio and TV. Moreover, the spread of internationals around the country is less than equitable. Yes the Stadium is a wonderful venue but surely Belfast, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Derry are deserving of regular opportunity to host senior international events?

One can only imagine that this would prove to be a profitable experience both in terms of revenue and exposure?

Moreover, following Beijing the time is right for the IABA to lobby RTE and the Government if necessary to force the State Broadcaster in to a deal that would ensure live coverage of the sport on our screens for all major competitions. In a nutshell – we need more professionalism outside the ring. In it, it would a little more complicated.

After all, the possibility of the amateur code engaging in any sort of bidding war with professional promoters for the services of boxers should be frowned upon. If a boxer wants to make money, the IABA or Sports Council should not be stretching budgets to enable him to do so. Certainly, fostering talent with financial means is desirable and commendable – but to go down the road of six figure salaries makes a mockery of the ethos of amateur sport.

If a boxer is costing too much he should be given his cards, lest his demands interfere with the development of other boxers.

But wait. There seems to be a third way emerging.

Apparently the AIBA are planning to introduce a World League, which would offer prizemoney rather than pay packets by 2010 and boxers would still be allowed to enter the Olympics.

AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu has said that this can change the sport forever.

“The World League of Boxing will revolutionise the sport of boxing like never before, providing a universal form of entertainment which will capture the imagination of boxing fans around the world,” he said.

Whatever way these plans pan out the IABA should be planning for making the most of the current system – bad judging and all.

And that includes abandoning the viewpoint that stopping the best amateurs from turning professional is so important.

The situation between the amateurs and professionals is like that of the GAA and the AFL. At the end of the day, an athlete is always going to go for the money if it is on the table.

So it may be best for the sport if amateur authorities looked at the next hungry generation such as Darren O’Neill and Tommy McCarthy rather than stretching budgets trying to retain established stars such as Sutherland and Egan.

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