Ten weeks to Rio and boxing hit with the old one-two
EXACTLY ten weeks out from the scheduled opening day of competition at the Rio Olympics the games have been hit by a double whammy which at face value has serious implications for Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport boxing.
Firstly more than 150 of the world’s top doctors and researchers demanded that the Games should be moved elsewhere or at least postponed because of the Zika virus.
But the World Health Organisation bluntly rejected their call claiming that the Games would ‘not significantly alter’ the spread of the virus, which began in Brazil a year ago and is linked to serious birth defects.
This controversy will run right up to the start of the Games scheduled for August 5 and the big headache facing the International Olympic Committee is that an increasing number of qualified athletes – particularly females –may opt not to travel to Rio.
From an Irish perspective even more alarming has been the emergence in the last 24 hours of a leaked report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which at face value raises the possibility of boxing being banned from the Rio Games.
According to Private Eye magazine the report stated that the world governing body of boxing, the International Boxing Association (AIBA), carried out no out-of-competition drug test in 2015 and only one the year before.
At face value the figures put the AIBA in danger of being declared non-compliant with the WADA code and the entire sport could be banned from the Rio Olympics as a result.
The AIBA issued what could be terms a ‘holding statement’ stating that ‘anti-doping is of the utmost importance for the AIBA and there is no compromise on this issue.’
But in the world of realpolitik there is little chance of the International Olympic Committee banning boxing at this late stage from the Rio Games for three reasons.
Boxing has been part of every Summer Olympics since 1920 – there was no boxing in Athens (1886) or Paris (1900) while boxing was banned in Sweden in 1912. Together with track and field boxing is one of the lynch-pin sports of the Games.
Secondly the International Olympic Committee will have enough on its plate during the next ten weeks dealing not just with the continuing fall-out from the Zika virus controversy but a decision over whether Russian and Kenyan athletes will be allowed compete in Rio than creating another tsunami like controversy by banning boxing from the Games.
Finally and perhaps most pertinently the IOC would almost certainly face a law suit from boxers including the Irish squad who have compiled fully with the requirements of their governing bodies’ out-of-competition testing programme if they attempted to prevent them competing in Rio.
In 2015, for example, the Irish Sports Council carried out 30 out-of-competition tests on Irish boxers so the seven Irish boxers who have already qualified for Rio probably can rest easy on this score.
One suspects that the AIBA will escape with a severe reprimand with the threat of being barred from future Olympics hanging over them unless they get their house in order.
Meanwhile, on Monday night in the National Stadium (7pm) four Olympic hopeful do battle to earn a crack at qualifying for the Rio Games in the light welter and middle weight divisions respectively. Most interest will centre on the clash between European medallists Dean Walsh and Ray Moylette in the 64kg class - a repeat of last December's National Elite final which Walsh - a nephew of former Irish National Coach Billy Walsh - won a controversial split decision.
In the other contest Michael O'Reilly - who was desperately unlucky not to qualify for the Olympics at the World championships in Doha last year - will be hot favourite to beat Conor Wallace. The two winners together with Darren O'Neill (heavy) and Dean Gardiner (superheavy) will head off on Wednesday to Baku for the penultimate qualifying tournament ahead of Rio.
There are five places available in both the 64kg and 75kg weight divisions which gives the Irish boxers a realistic chance of making the cut but O'Neill and Gardiner must win their respective weight divisions to qualify.