The Irish team competing at the World Junior Boxing Championships in Armenia has been thrown into confusion following a statement made by Minister for Sport Thomas Byrne in the Dáil on Tuesday night about whether Irish athletes are permitted to compete against Russian and Belarusian opponents without funding sanctions.
A heartbroken Tegan Farrelly was forced to withdraw from the tournament on Sunday when she was drawn to face a Russian in the first round, her tournament ending before it began because of an understanding the IABA had with the Government and Sport Ireland that they would remove athletes if they were drawn against Russians or Belarusians.
However, despite Farrelly’s withdrawal, the President of the IABA Gerry O’Mahony said on RTÉ’s Liveline on Wednesday that he will inform the Irish team that athletes can now box against Russians and Belarusians based on a statement by Byrne in response to a Dáil question.
Despite the competition already starting, O’Mahony said he would be emailing the Irish team that athletes can compete regardless of who they draw, meaning that Ireland’s John Donoghue can take part in Thursday’s quarter-final bout against a Russian opponent.
“I believe they may now have changed their policy, where it is up to us, we decide. But we were never notified of that,” Mr O’Mahony told RTÉ presenter, Joe Duffy. “He [Minister] said last night we would not be sanctioned. But we were led to believe that … we wouldn’t be looked on favourably if we went against the agreements signed by 36 Ministers.”
Mr O’Mahony explained that following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when Jack Chambers was the Irish Minister, 36 Sports Ministers signed an agreement not to compete against Russian or Belarusian athletes. However, Mr O’Mahony believes Minister Byrne has now resiled from that position.
“After that statement, I am prepared to risk it because he said it would not affect our funding. But I want that confirmed and I want an urgent meeting with the Minister and when I say urgent, I mean today, a phone call because the decision about the young lad [Donoghue] has to be made tonight. Also, other boxers have lost out in the past.”
In addition to the four-time Irish champion from Dunboyne, Farrelly, withdrawing, three Irish boxers were forced to pull out of the European U-22 championships in Budva, Montenegro a few weeks ago for the same reason. Ireland team captain Kian Hedderman, middleweight Gavin Rafferty and Evelyn Igharo, who had reached the semi-final stage, were all withdrawn.
“They should notify us and say we’ve no problem your athletes taking part against Russians,” said Mr O’Mahony. “They should have said that before this. My personal wish is that the young lad boxes and I’ll do all in my power. It’s looking good.”
In all, 345 boxers from 51 countries travelled to Armenia to compete, the first tournament of its kind in eight years. The Irish team consists of a total of 11 boys and girls with five officials.