terminated | 

How boxing’s ‘civil war’ is damaging long-term servants of the sport

Paddy Kehoe’s official role in Irish boxing and his 70-year-old membership of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association was officially terminated last month
Paddy Kehoe (left) and his son Philip who have given a combined 100 years of service to amateur boxing in Ireland

Paddy Kehoe (left) and his son Philip who have given a combined 100 years of service to amateur boxing in Ireland

Sean McGoldrick

Paddy Kehoe is in his 83rd year and he has devoted his life to amateur boxing.

Like Tokyo Olympic champion Kellie Harrington, he was born in Portland Row in Dublin’s north inner city and boxing out of the famed British Rail club, he had a distinguished career.

He was in the frame for a place at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and held his own in three international bouts against the legendary Scottish Olympic champion Dick McTaggart.

Later he became an international referee and was Head Coach of British Rail– now Dublin Docklands BC – for four decades. And together with his late wife Olive, who was an international time-keeper in boxing, helped run the Dublin County Board.

Paddy Kehoe’s official role in Irish boxing and his 70-year-old membership of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association was officially terminated last month. “I think it is disgraceful. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Paddy.

The IABA banished 25 members after a Membership Panel, comprising of two barristers and an official from another national sports organisation, none of whom have any involvement in boxing, upheld the decision of the IABA’s Central Council to remove their membership following a protracted row over the election of new directors.

It was a double whammy for the Kehoe family as his son Philip, who now runs Dublin Docklands, the home club of Tokyo Olympian Emmet Brennan, was also banned.

It is not a victimless war and the future of the Docklands club is in jeopardy because of the bans. Now based in Seville Place, the club caters for boxers from one of the most socially deprived areas in Dublin.

“We took in lots of boys who were on the wrong road and put them on the proper road, and they appreciated that,” says Paddy, who has never been officially informed of the decision to ban him. He doesn’t have an email address. The correspondence was sent to Phillip’s email address.

“I had to ring my Dad and tell him the news,” said Philip. “I said to him ‘you won’t believe this, but your membership has been revoked’. We went through the nuts and bolts of what had happened and how the Central Council had taken the decision, and referred it to the Board of Directors.

“Then we got chatting about the Central Council members and mentioned their names. These people have been my friends for over 30 years, and in the case of my Dad much longer.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” says his father.

Like all civil wars, the damage done to personal relationships is what hits hardest. For decades, Paddy Kehoe worked alongside the late Joe Kirwan in British Rail BC. Joe’s nephew Ciarán Kirwan is now the chairman of the IABA’s Board of Directors.

It is not the first time that Paddy has experienced the uglier side of boxing politics. In 2008, the Dublin Board took a High Court challenge against a decision to transform the IABA into a limited company.

Not only they did lose the action, but three years later were ordered to pay over €60,000 in legal costs. Thirty-one named members of the Board, including Paddy and Olive Keogh, were held personally liable for the debt.

“They were threatening to take our house and everything. I still have all the letters somewhere,” says Paddy. Phillip recalls helping to organise fund-raising events to pay off the bill.

The affair still sours relations between the Dublin Board and the Board of Directors.

For the six Keogh siblings, the National Stadium was their playground. Their parents brought them there when they were officiating at championships.

A talented boxer, Philip won six National titles. He also played Gaelic football with Parnells and featured on Dublin minor and U-21 Dublin teams in Leinster championships.

His brother Seán runs East Meath BC, while another sibling Patrick won caps for Ireland, both in boxing and soccer. He was the FAI’s Junior International Player of the Year in 2006.

But it fell to Philip to take over the reins of Docklands BC. “I groomed him and would have been lost without him,” says Paddy.

In 2008 he succeeded his father as Head Coach in Docklands and in his own words is now the head coach, secretary, caretaker and psychologist.

“I’m only on the periphery of boxing politics. My main interest is coaching and bringing success to the club and to these lads. We are situated in a deprived area.

“We have seen the journey they take once they walk through the door. It has given them a completely different outlook on life. It has changed the lives of a lot of kids from the East Wall area.”

Covid-19 hit boxing hard, with the club forced to keep their doors locked for a period. Once the restrictions were eased, they hosted outdoor training sessions in Fairview Park

“It was so important to keep the kids interested and involved, because we have so very talented young boxers here. We didn’t want to lose them to the sport.”

But he is around boxing long enough to know that, despite success being achieved at international level, there are serious issues which need to be addressed in the sport.

“It is great that the IABA has that (training) facility out in Abbotstown. I fully back all that and the professional culture in the sport. But the way the association run it, and operate it, leaves a lot to be desired.”

The absence of a defined pathway for young boxers is causing the sport to lose talented fighters at an alarming rate, he suggests.

“Once they reach the age 17 or 18, they are either quitting or turning professional, which is damaging the sport. There should be a proper career pathway in place for junior boxers.”

It was a desire to have his voice heard at national level where key decision are made which prompted Kehoe to seek election to the Central Council. “A lot of members in Dublin wanted him to stand,” says his father.

“I’d like to be part of creating a new culture in the IABA, a culture that has probably been there before, but it has kind of disintegrated over the last few years.”

Ever since he opened the email from the IABA, officially informing him his membership had been revoked, Philip Kehoe has struggled to come to terms with the news.

“I has affected my work life. I have lost a bit of sleep over it, because I’m thinking about what the future holds for boxing and for the club. I can’t get my head around it.

“Boxing, to a degree, is in decline in this country. There is really no support for us. We are all volunteers. I’m passionate about the sport. I have a wife and family to look after, but boxing is my other family. I could be here in the club seven days a week training lads ahead of a championship because I’m so passionate.”

He suggests the Central Council ought to have taken a more pragmatic approach to the crisis.

Having read the minutes of Zoom meetings held by the Membership Panel which decided the fate, their lack of empathy struck him.

“The majority of the those suspended have given a lifetime service to boxing. In my Dad’s case it is 70 years; I have given over 30. But the members of the panel only spoke about one thing: withdrawing our membership.”

It’s not just the fate of the 25 individuals members that the SDSI, the body who is hearing their appeal, have in their hands. The future of many of the country’s boxing clubs hangs in the balance as well.

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