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Boxing funding cut but Sport Ireland 'a long way from giving up hope' on IABA reform

Irish boxing’s NGB has until mid-September to propose a restructure of its long-maligned governance.

Amateur boxing faces further funding cuts if its governing body doesn't reshape its governance by mid-September.
Amateur boxing faces further funding cuts if its governing body doesn't reshape its governance by mid-September.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

SPORT IRELAND HAS formalised a 15% reduction to the Irish Athletic Boxing Association’s core funding for 2023 following last month’s boxing EGM at which members overwhelmingly rejected recommendations for governance reform within the IABA.

Confirmed since last month, the cut to Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport was set in stone as Sport Ireland today allocated €15 million in total funding for Irish sport’s National Governing Bodies (NGBs) next year.

As part of the announcement, Sport Ireland identified three key priorities for the immediate future of Irish sport and its NGBs: diversity and inclusion, improved governance, and greater gender balance.

All NGBs will be required to achieve a minimum of 40% female representation on their boards by the end of next year.

Sport Ireland CEO Dr Una May also said that the organisation is working on guidance regarding the participation of transgender athletes in Irish sport.

“We did put out a request for tenders last month,” Dr May said. “I suppose a demonstration of the complexity of this area is the fact that we received no tenders. It’s a very very difficult area and what we want to do is provide support and guidance where we can but acknowledge that international federations are the ones who set the rules for sport generally.”

She added that Sport Ireland hoped to be able to provide to NGBs the requisite supports to implement the rules of their respective international governing bodies.

dr-una-may Sport Ireland CEO Dr Una May. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The 15% funding cut to boxing stems from the IABA’s failure last month to adopt recommendations for governance reform which were detailed in an independent report written by Brian MacNeice, an expert on high performance and business leadership.

Several of MacNeice’s 64 recommendations were brought to the table at the IABA’s EGM in Roscommon on 10 July to be voted upon by the IABA’s club delegates from all over the country.

The most pressing of these recommendations pertained to the constitution of the IABA’s Board of Directors, with the report proposing that six new directors — including the chairperson — be appointed by an external, independent body. It was also proposed that the number of directors on the board be increased from 10 to 12, splitting the influence equally between those democratically elected from within the sport and those elected by an independent body.

The implementation of these recommendations was considered non-negotiable by both Sport Ireland and Minister for Sport Jack Chambers, both of whom outlined to the IABA’s existing directors that failure to reshape their governance structure would result in a 15% funding cut.

Another recommendation from MacNeice’s report that was proposed at last month’s meeting was that the IABA make allowances for its AGM to be held in the six counties.

All of the aforementioned proposals would have required 75% backing from members because the IABA operates as a limited company. However, even with the threat of a 15% funding cut looming, they were resoundingly rejected by members.

Sport Ireland and Minister Chambers consequently gave the IABA until mid-September to present to them “a comprehensive plan for real and meaningful governance reform”, as Sport Ireland CEO Dr Una May put it at the time, to avoid even harsher funding cuts in the backend of this year and, potentially, the prospect of being entirely cut off from state funding in 2023 — a year out from the Paris Olympics.

At a Sport Ireland press conference today, the organisation’s director of high performance and NGBs, Paul McDermott, and Minister for Sport, Jack Chambers, provided an update as to where things stand with the association’s efforts to address its broader governance issues.

McDermott, who along with Sport Ireland CEO Una May met with the IABA’s Ciaran Kirwan (chairman) and Fergal Carruth (CEO) a week after the Roscommon EGM, praised the association for its decision to call another EGM for this Saturday, 13 August, at which club delegates will revisit the proposal to allow the IABA’s AGM to be held in the six counties.

McDermott confirmed that the IABA has “identified where the 15% cut is going to fall” and that Sport Ireland was also “working with [IABA] High Performance and the team who are there and trying to stabilise that so they know what’s going to happen over the next few months.”

paul-mcdermott Sport Ireland's director of high performance and NGBs, Paul McDermott. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

McDermott said that regarding governance reform, the IABA board are “having dialogue.”

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“They have asked, the various board members, what they can suggest that can work — either within the MacNeice Report or in wider governance. They haven’t come back to us yet but we know we’re having that conversation themselves and we await what their proposals will be. And we are supporting them: I talk to Fergal [Carruth] regularly and hopefully they will come back with something that we can at least have a conversation around.

“Where we are at the moment is a ‘no’ against the report. We can’t work with that. So they have to come back with something that we can respond to.

It’s an ongoing dialogue and, in fairness to Ciaran Kirwan and Fergal Carruth, they have addressed some of the immediate things which were going to cause them problems and they are trying to engage with the community to come up with a set of proposals. I don’t know what that looks like yet. Some people have different views, I’m sure. And, look, it’ll be a few weeks, I’d say, before there’s concrete measures behind it.

When it was put to McDermott that the proposals for change were rejected by the IABA’s club members from all over the country, and not necessarily the upper brass with whom Sport Ireland and Minister Chambers have engaged in dialogue, he said that there “has to be a realisation within boxing that they have to project outwards some sense that they want to progress around governance.”

“I would say, on a positive note: things can be fixed,” he added. “We didn’t meet anyone who was against reform. We’re a long way from giving up hope.”

kellie-harrington-with-jack-chambers-td Minister for Sport Jack Chambers meeting Kellie Harrington on her return from the Tokyo Olympics last August. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Minister Chambers said that he welcomed the fact that the association was firstly “remedying the decision to exclude the six counties from hosting meetings, which I think sent the wrong signal and got a very negative reaction from the northern membership of boxing.

“There’s still ongoing conflict and a dispute around what the governance architecture should be but our demand is that they find a solution within their structures and come forward with concrete proposals which meet that basic standard of governance,” he added.

We can’t have this ongoing conflict which is overshadowing the great success of boxing. Boxing does so much within communities and it has been our most successful Olympic sport. [It has] more than 18,000 members, brilliant clubs. I’ve visited many of them myself, so I want to support boxing and give them that opportunity to grow. But you can’t do that with conflict and internal disputes and internal politics which is about individuals focusing on maybe their own agendas rather than the greater good of boxing.

“We’re halfway through the number of weeks to come up with a constructive proposal and we welcome the fact that there’s ongoing engagement with Sport Ireland”, the sports minister added, “and we want to work with them to come up with a solution.”

When asked if it would be possible to extend the Sport Ireland- and government-imposed deadline for the IABA to present proposals, Minister Chambers replied: “This will not be going into the never-ever. There are a lot of reports, there’s the MacNeice Report. This shouldn’t take a huge amount of time. They have to find a solution and find it quickly.”

- Additional reporting by Christina Finn

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