Unfortunately, the year 2020, is not one we will be reminiscing about with any degree of joy or nostalgia. A year that had promised so much, which was scheduled to climax with the Olympic Games in Tokyo, ultimately and tragically fell victim to the Covid-19 pandemic. Tragically, we also lost a number of our members and extended family to the corona virus and our thoughts and prayers remain with their loved ones especially at this time.
Much like many other aspects of society, amateur boxing in Ireland was for the most part seriously curtailed in an effort to put the greater public health need to the forefront and suppress this global virus.
The IABA have never lost sight of the fact that we cannot allow ourselves to underestimate the deadly effects that this virus has had and continues to have throughout communities across the entire island of Ireland. The pain felt throughout the entire organisation over the last 9 months is immeasurable. The financial and social impact will no doubt be felt for many years to come. However, this pales in comparison when contrasted against the loss of life experienced by families in our sport and communities throughout the country.
The safety and wellbeing of our members has always been and will continue be our paramount consideration when making any decisions relating to the pandemic. While competitive boxing and club training has been curtailed throughout the year, the work carried out within the organisation at all levels to comply with regulations and to keep members safe has been enormous. The work conducted by clubs across the island has been nothing short of inspiring. This work has been highlighted by Sport Ireland and Sport NI for special praise and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our members for their hard work during this testing period.
At a national level, the strain that Covid-19 has placed on the organisation has been mammoth. The strict requirements and government protocols have placed expectations on our volunteers and staff which has been extremely onerous. I would also like to publicly thank The Officer Board, Central Council and the Staff for working so well together to complete this work.
Staff and volunteers have worked around the clock in an effort to bring boxing back to some level of normality. This has included many late nights and weekends, often under the additional stresses related with remote working. Much of this work has been invisible and conducted behind closed doors with external stakeholders and medical experts. It should be noted that this body of work has been resoundingly praised by the Sport Ireland Expert Medical Advisor group, the Sport NI Return to Sport Expert group and by other boxing federations. As you know boxing is an all Island sport and as such the IABA must legally operate within guidelines as required by the Irish government and Northern Irish Executive in order to remain operational. The requirements expected by both funders and governments are mandatory.
In some rarer but very welcome moments of good news in 2020, Linda Morgan from the Arklow boxing club was elected onto the Board of directors of the Olympic Federation of Ireland, Kellie Harrington won the European shadow boxing championships and represented herself and the organisation with distinction in the media through the darkest times of the pandemic. Brendan Irvine, just in time before the curtain came down at the London qualifiers became the first of our team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The IABA was successful in securing a very large level of funding for our clubs through the Sport Ireland Resilience Funding. While we are fully cognisant of how badly clubs need additional funding during this period, we would ask all members to remain patient for a little longer. Extensive work is being carried out by the board of directors financial sub-committee and staff to ensure this funding is distributed in a fashion whereby as many clubs as possible will receive support.
We have witnessed continued growth in participation numbers through our schools boxing programs. 2020 saw a marked increase in participants in our Start-Box and Ulster school participation program.
We have also seen improvements in digital resources through a virtual AGM, online training and multiple webinars being made available to our members. These webinars were well attended and received very positive feedback from those who attended. We plan to continue rolling out online training and digital webinars in 2021, in an accessible and user-friendly fashion which will allow all members to access these resources. I would also especially like to highlight the pro-active work carried out by the Connacht and Ulster Councils in this area. Both bodies deserve special mention and credit for this work.
The Governance of the IABA,
The board of Directors of the IABA is currently comprised of eight people and will extend to ten early in the New Year. Those currently on the board are President, Dominic O’Rourke who has been immersed in the sport of boxing for over 50 years and gives his entire life over to the sport. All of our four provinces are represented on the board, by either their President or a nominated member from their Council. The remaining three members consist of the Chairman and two independent directors.
Former Chairman, Joe Christle’s promise to the membership that boxing would be ran by boxing participant members has for quite some time now been a reality with the majority of the board being made up by elected officials. Further to Joe’s promise, Clubs of the IABA are now the only ones who can vote, which means that our clubs have a leading say over how the organisation will be ran. This is a truly historic time for our organisation and the future of our sport rests with those, who have for a long time been correctly referred to as the lifeblood of the organisation, “our clubs”.
I like many of you come from a family who for generations have been involved in amateur boxing in Ireland. Just like many of you I also grew up in a household where boxing was part of our DNA and the love for this great sport was passed down through both our father and mother. I am very proud to say this tradition continues today and I am immensely proud of the great work I see my brothers doing with the club where we grew up.
Our Chairman, Ciaran Kirwan is an independent member of the board as he did not box, nor was he a member of a club. However, he has been a fan of boxing and a regular at the National Stadium since he was a young boy. His family have for decades been intrinsically linked to and loyal custodians of the IABA. Ciaran’s father Christy was a trustees and Patron and his uncle was Joe Kirwan who gained in many people’s opinion (including my own) legendary status for his input and countless years’ service to the IABA. The board of directors under Ciaran’s tenure as Chair has always and continue to strive to do what they believe is in the very best interest of the IABA.
I would encourage members to familiarise themselves with the working structures of the IABA and the excellent work being conducted by the board.
Working together as one sporting community
As CEO of the IABA and also as a Director of the Federation of Irish Sport, I have been involved in numerous meetings over the last few months with Government Ministers, Department of Sport officials, the Olympic Federation of Ireland, the Irish institute of Sport, Sport Ireland and Sport NI and indeed many of the other national governing bodies for sport (NGB’s) for indoor and outdoor sports.
These meetings were conducted in a very respectful fashion and it is important to note that all parties present worked tirelessly to do everything possible to assist sport in this country to survive during this dreadful time. However, there was frank discussions and openness at these meetings where organisations including our own could set out how the pandemic had severely affected our club structure and the sport as a whole. This work in turn delivered the Resilience funding rolled out by Government which was greatly appreciated. The IABA will continue to work strongly together with all stakeholders in Sport into the New Year.
Return to boxing
I am confident that Boxing will return to the National stadium and our clubs will again operate in full contact training in 2021. I am also very confident that the Olympic Games will proceed in 2021 and Tokyo this summer will be a festival of sport and fun to kick start the World again out of this period of isolation, lockdown and restriction. The variety of Vaccines that are now coming on stream is my primary source of confidence in making these statements. However, we must remain vigilant and stay alert until the final bell has rang. It will take time for vaccines to be rolled out and this will mean further lockdowns starting with the period directly following Christmas. Please stay safe during this time and continue to demonstrate the resilient example you have done so very well over this extremely difficult time.
When this pandemic has passed its impact will be felt for a long time but as an organisation we will be able to look back and be proud how responsible we have been to all our members and the communities in which we live through our actions as the IABA.
I wish you and your families a very happy and safe Christmas and a fantastic New Year.