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Path to Tokyo changes for Irish boxers as global Olympic qualifier is cancelled

Kurt Walker appears all but qualified, Kellie Harrington finds herself on the verge, but the door seems to have closed on Christina Desmond.

Kurt Walker is all but qualified for Tokyo as a result of the shake-up, while Kellie Harrington will book her place with a last-16 win in June.
Kurt Walker is all but qualified for Tokyo as a result of the shake-up, while Kellie Harrington will book her place with a last-16 win in June.
Image: INPHO

THE FINAL GLOBAL boxing qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics is being scrapped, with places at this summer’s pandemic-delayed Games to be determined firstly by remaining continental qualifiers and then by updated rankings issued by the IOC’s Boxing Task Force (BTF).

A ‘world’ qualifier was due to take place in Paris in June, but Covid-19-related travel restrictions and the moving of the final European qualifier (which was postponed mid-tournament last March) to June have dictated that the final global qualification leg be cancelled and its allotted places at the Games filled instead by the highest-ranked non-qualified boxer from each continent, in each division.

As it pertains to Ireland’s boxers, the BTF rankings points published in February of last year, plus further rankings points earned at the rescheduled European qualifier this June, will be used to determine the highest-ranked European boxers.

The picture for several of Ireland’s Tokyo hopefuls therefore changes as a result, with Irish-boxing.com journalist Joe O’Neill calculating that former 60kg world champion Kellie Harrington and 57kg European champion Kurt Walker — the latter of whom actually lost his opening bout in London before the mid-tournament postponement last March, and would therefore have been reliant on the world qualifiers in normal circumstances — are now poised to join team captain Brendan Irvine at the Games.

Walker, who is currently ranked no.2 in Europe, is ostensibly ‘in’ by default as he cannot be overtaken as the highest-ranked non-qualifier even after rankings points are added upon the completion of the rescheduled European qualifiers. Meanwhile, a win in her opening bout in June would 100% guarantee Harrington her place in Tokyo, while even if she were to lose that last-16 bout against Poland, only a fairly unlikely sequence of results for her Swedish contemporary would see her miss out on her first Olympics.

Success for Harrington would take the number of Tokyo-qualified Irish boxers to three, while there are still paths available to Michaela Walsh, Aoife O’Rourke, Michael Nevin, Aidan Walsh, Emmet Brennan, George Bates, and Kirill Afanasev, the precise permutations for whom have been broken down by Irish-boxing.com ahead of the resumption of European qualification in four months’ time.

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Dean Gardiner, who recently announced his retirement from the sport, could also still qualify through that rescheduled tournament if he makes himself available to box once more.

However, Christina Desmond looks set to miss out on Tokyo having been eliminated at the last-16 stage of European qualifiers last March. Desmond is ranked seventh in Europe but the points given to the eight quarter-finalists upon the qualifiers’ completion in June will bump the Irish welterweight champion out of the qualification spots. In ordinary circumstances, Desmond would have been able to stage another qualification bid at the ‘world’ tournament.

Japan Boxing Federation spokeswoman Mayumi Imaeda told AFP on Tuesday that the body had been informed of the move to cancel the world qualifiers in Paris, and said it was made in the interest of athlete equality.

“Athletes from some countries can travel to Paris but not from others, so it’s unfair,” she said.

“The athletes have to come first, and they have to be safe and secure. It also has to be open and honest. The athletes have to be treated equally.”

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