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Olympic blow Road to Tokyo made steeper for Irish boxers after changes to qualification process

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Irish Olympic boxing hopeful Kellie Harrington

Irish Olympic boxing hopeful Kellie Harrington

Irish Olympic boxing hopeful Kellie Harrington

Irish boxers aiming to fight at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics this summer face a more daunting challenge after last minute changes to the qualification process.

Just as a 10-member squad was preparing to depart to Bulgaria for their first international tournament in nearly a year the IOC Boxing Task Force announced to revised qualifying system.

A planned ‘Last Chance Saloon’ tournament scheduled for Paris in June has been cancelled.

Instead, the 52 Olympics spots - 32 men and 21 women - planned to be allocated at the event will now by allocated equally across four regions (Africa, Americas, Asia/Oceania, and Europe.) Crucially there will be just one place available per continent in each of the 13 weight categories.

The Task Force will compile a ranking list following the completion of the respective continental qualifying events. Only the best ranked boxer in his or her respective weight category and continent who hasn’t previously qualified will receive the golden ticket.

Furthermore, the European qualifier tournament which was halted after three days of action last March due to Covid-19 has now been refixed for June at a venue yet to be determined. It had been originally been rescheduled for April.

The only Irish fighter to have qualified for the Tokyo Games is Belfast’s Brendan Irvine who also boxed in the Rio Games in 2016.

The take home message for the rest of the fighters to that they need to secure their spot at the rescheduled European qualifier as their chances of being ranked high enough to be picked at the end of the process looks remote.

In a provisional ranking list published by the Task Force prior to the European qualifiers the only Irish boxer ranked in the top ten was Kurt Walker, who was beaten in the London qualifier.

The change in the qualifying system means he won’t have a second chance in the ring and his place in Toyko will now be determined by whether European bantamweights who are ranked ahead of him qualify automatically.

The late change in the system is a big victory for the Asia and African group of countries who traditionally would be as strong in boxing as the European block.

Boxers from Europe would have fancied their prospects of doing well in the final World qualifier in Paris, but this avenue is now closed to them.

Meanwhile, the ten-strong Irish squad which will take part in the Standja Multi-Nations in Sofia, Bulgaria is: flyweight Niamh Earley (Ryston BC), featherweight Michaela Walsh (Monkstown BC), lightweight Kellie Harrington (St Mary’s BC), middleweight Aoife O’Rourke (Castlerea BC), flyweight, Brendan Irvine (St Paul’s), lightweight George Bates (St Mary’s BC), welterweight Aidan Walash (Monkstown), light heavyweight Emmett Brennan (Dublin Docklands), heavyweight Kirill Afanasev (Smithfield BC), super heavyweight Gytis Lisinskas (Celtic Eagles BC)

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