The Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) have broken their silence about the resignation of Billy Walsh, a day after the coach flew to the US to take up his new role with Boxing USA.
The organisation has been at the centre of a storm of controversy since Walsh stepped down as head of Irish boxing’s High Performance Unit on Monday.
Walsh said the IABA had “not made it possible for me to continue on in the role”.
The organisation had been sharply criticised for its handling of contract negotiations with the highly successful coach, with the Irish Sports Council threatening to review its funding over the issue.
Kieran Mulvey, Chairman of Sport Ireland, described the situation as “unconscionable”.
The IABA confirmed that Zaur Antia has been appointed on an interim basis as head coach.
Their lengthy statement insists that they acted at all times “in the best interests of Irish boxing” and called on Mulvey to withdraw the remarks he made during the week.
They gave a detailed breakdown of the contract negotiation with Walsh and said his resignation was “hugely surprising and disappointing news”.
IABA statement in full
The Irish Amateur Boxing Association Ltd (IABA) wishes to put on the record its position in relation to the resignation of our colleague and friend Billy Walsh as head coach of the IABA’s High Performance
Our fundamental position is, and has always been, that
a) We never wanted Billy to leave the organisation, and did everything within reason to meet his demands;
b) The success of Irish boxing is down to a combination of an all island network of dedicated local clubs, coaches, boxers and a High Performance Unit which incorporates a team of highly skilled coaches and talented athletes. This is an effective and highly successful IABA structure that has delivered phenomenally for this country, providing close to 60% of all Irish Olympic medals won to date; and, very importantly –
c) This is not only about Billy Walsh or any one individual per se (and we are unapologetic about this point). This is about what is in the best interests of Irish boxing and its continued success at all levels. That is the starting and ending point for the IABA as the guardians of the sport, and as a body of volunteers, the length and breadth of the island, that lives eats and breathes this great sport.
Our position focuses on four broad areas, all fundamentally linked to what we believe are in the best interests of Irish boxing, those areas being:
– our decision not to communicate extensively on an external basis;
– our efforts to retain Billy’s services;
– the unhelpful, highly questionable and disingenuous intervention by Sport Ireland in its attack on the IABA and boxing in Ireland this week;
– and the structures we now have in place that positions Ireland as strongly as ever for international competition and the forthcoming Olympic Games.
1) The decision not to communicate extensively:
Heretofore, the IABA felt it was inappropriate to publicly comment, whilst discussions were underway with Billy in relation to his employment contract.
However, at this stage we have no choice now but to put firmly on the record our position, (and we are more than happy to do so at this point) following what we believe has been a scurrilous, disingenuous and highly questionable attack on Irish boxing by Sport Ireland (formerly the Irish Sports Council), its Chief Executive, Mr John Treacy and its Chairman, Mr Kieran Mulvey.
The IABA looks forward to the opportunity to participate in any independent review process, which the Minister for Sport may set in train. Equally, we are happy to have accepted an invitation by the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications to present to it. This would be welcomed by the Board of Directors.
2) Efforts to retain the services of Billy Walsh:
In late February of this year, Billy approached the Chairman and CEO of the IABA indicating that he had received an offer by Team USA to manage the women’s boxing team for what Billy himself termed as “crazy money”. From then on and up until his surprise resignation earlier this week, the IABA never sought to remove Billy from his post as head coach or to change the terms of his employment. In the interests of Irish boxing, we at no stage wanted Billy to leave his position.
Sport Ireland, as the primary administrator of public funds to Irish boxing was immediately contacted by the IABA and Billy’s demands were communicated to the agency.
Subsequently, a number of proposals were put to Billy and there was an initial urgency to the process at Billy’s insistence, but that urgency subsequently subsided due to overseas tournaments and competitions and US work visa issues, which took a number of months to complete.
On 22 August a meeting took place and a draft proposal was presented by Sport Ireland to the IABA. In the interests of Irish boxing, the IABA attendees expressed their concerns with the draft proposal. We were given assurances at that point that those concerns would be addressed; however, what transpired was a different draft proposal.
Notwithstanding this, the draft proposal was presented by the Chairman to the Board of the IABA on the 25 August, but no formal vote was taken as the Chairman was of the opinion that the vote would be negative, which would have made it more difficult for the organisation to retain Billy’s services as head coach. At this point, we received a communication from Sport Ireland indicating that they had no further role in this matter.
Subsequently, through the good offices of Minister Michael Ring TD, a proposal was brokered by him that was agreed to in full by all parties and then presented to Billy and his advisors in mid September. Formal contracts then followed. Billy’s solicitors reverted with a series of suggested amendments to the contracts, many of which were acceded to by the IABA. Those contracts as amended were again forwarded to his solicitors. The next communication the IABA received was the resignation on 19 October.
This was hugely surprising and disappointing news to the IABA. Billy’s resignation letter and public announcement were so definite that the organisation, again in the interests of Irish boxing as a whole, had no choice but to accept that resignation, with regret.
It is important to point out that in all of our dealings with Billy during this process, the vast majority of the discussions related to remuneration matters. To suggest otherwise, is a total misrepresentation of the facts.
3) Sport Ireland intervention:
The IABA was shocked by the very public attack on it and on Irish boxing, by the Chairman and CEO of Sport Ireland.
An attack, that was totally disingenuous and plainly part of a campaign by a statutory state body to exercise control over the IABA’s High Performance Unit.
This, we believe is yet another clear example of Sport Ireland’s officials seeking to go beyond their authority and its statutory mandate and act Ultra Vires their statutory power or remit. The agency has a track record and form in this regard and has paid dearly for it in the past.
The Board of the IABA has full confidence in its leadership team, ably led by CEO, Fergal Carruth. The organisation abides and attests to best practice governance guidelines. The financial accounts of the organisation are fully audited and the IABA rejects in the strongest possible terms the unsubstantiated inferences by Sport Ireland that the IABA is not governed effectively. We hereby call upon the Chairman and CEO of Sport Ireland to unreservedly withdraw the derogatory comments and unsubstantiated allegations made by them against our CEO.
We will vigorously defend the disgraceful allegations made by Sport Ireland, both directly in our future interactions with the agency, and reserve the right to take whatever further action we deem appropriate.
This is a defence of Irish boxing against claims by individuals who have absolutely no experience, knowledge or credibility in this sport, a sport akin to the GAA that is driven at a local level by people passionate about their sport, who are providing the pipeline of boxers that will bring continued success to Ireland on the world stage.
What we find most reprehensible is that Sport Ireland appears to have ulterior motives, does not have the best interests of Irish boxing at heart, has made unsubstantiated allegations, and we believe, have issued threats to funding Irish boxing that are fundamentally illegal and beyond its authority. The organisation was greatly relieved and heartened to hear the comments of Minister’s Donoghue and Ring who have stated that there will be no reduction in the funding of Irish boxing arising out of the resignation of Billy Walsh.
4) Moving on:
Billy made his decision to move to Team USA. We respect that decision and wish him the very best in the future.
Irish boxing has to move on too to ensure sustained and continued success. To that end, Zaur Antia has been appointed on an interim basis as Head Coach. We are grateful to Zaur for agreeing to step into the role and look forward to supporting him and the rest of the coaching team during this transition phase.
We can say with confidence that we have a unified team committed to redoubling efforts to prepare our athletes for Olympic qualification events and to prepare and assist those already qualified for Rio 2016.
The Board of the IABA will meet in early course to instigate a process to recruit and appoint a new Head Coach who will build on the successful legacy of Billy Walsh.
To conclude, the IABA reiterates that at all times our only concern was to deal with this issue in the best interests of Irish boxing.