The Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA)
Diarmuid O’Rourke, the new president of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) can’t be accused of lacking either passion or ambition when it comes to Irish boxing. He believes Ireland can win several Gold medals at the forthcoming World championships in Belfast and lays out a very impressive four year plan for Athens 2004.
He first became involved in club boxing as a youngster when he and his brothers joined St. Michael’s Boxing club Athy. He boxed there until the club closed down and then moved on to box for several other clubs. He would return to help reopen St. Michaels and from there he consistently moved up through the ranks, from county Board to Leinster level to President of the IABA. As a fan his favourite Boxer is Wayne Mc Cullough “especially his level of fitness” and he speaks with admiration of the effort and sacrifice boxers make for their sport.
Many people feel that boxing is a dangerous sport especially in light of the recent injuries to Paul Ingle and Spencer Oliver, and very often the media is particularly critical of boxing. O’Rourke feels it is very important to stress the differences between Amateur and Professional boxing.
They are like “chalk and cheese”, professional boxing is money obsessed and they don’t look after their boxers. Amateur bouts consist of 4 x 2 minute rounds as opposed to 12 x 3 minute rounds for professionals. Amateurs wear head protectors and bigger gloves and the standard of refereeing is much higher, with referees stopping fights at the first sign of danger. Coaches also look after their fighters and are very quick to retire fighters rather than risk injury.
This year the IABA has the honour of holding the world championships in Belfast from the 3rd – 10th June. Unlike professional boxing there is only one world champion is each weight division and they are unable to choose their opponents. This is the culmination of 10 years works both on the part of the IABA and Belfast city council. Tickets for the finals are very reasonable, costing only £15 pounds for the entire final 2 days. As part of the preparation for these championships
an Irish squad of 24 ( the No. 1 and 2 in each weight division ) boxers will train for one month,
in Limerick, with the Cuban squad which won four gold medals in Sydney. This was organised by Nicolas Cruz, Ireland’s Cuban coach. The Irish squad will have 2 international competitions against the Cubans plus two International against the USA. These internationals will be spread out around the four provinces to give people an opportunity to see international boxing. Nobody should miss the opportunity to see the Cubans, one of the most awesome sights in world sport, in action. Few professionals can match their level of skill. O’Rourke feels that Ireland can win several Gold medals in Belfast, but declines to name anyone in particular, as the national championships to select the team haven’t yet taken place.
The IABA is engaged in a four year programme building towards the Athens Olympics and they hope to rectify the fact that only one Irish Boxer got to the Sydney Olympics.
O’Rourke feels that this was mainly due to the break up of the Soviet Union, with 11 more countries competing for 8 European qualifying places. The statistics back this up given that 24 out of 48 medallist in Sydney came from former Soviet republics. But he stresses we must also remember that several Irish boxers came very close including Bernard Dunne, who held a sports scholarship in TCD.
The IABA plans to set up National training camps and national squads from age 13 –18 with training camps every 2nd weekend and camps during the summer with regular collaborations with the National Coaching and Training Centre in Limerick The newly refurbished National Stadium will eventually have living accommodation . The loss of Brian Magee and Damaen Kelly , to the professional ranks was a major blow before the last Olympics, so the IABA plan to encourage people to stay in the amateur ranks rather than turn professional but accept the temptation to turn professional will always be there. Senior squads will compete in more International competitions and they hope to send coaches to Cuba and Eastern Bloc countries to gain experience from the best coaches in the world.
On the question of women boxing he says the IABA are still looking at it. Women’s boxing is very big in Sweden and Canada and the inaugural World Amateur championships are to be held this year. He says that we have to get involved soon or we will be left behind and that his attitude to women’s boxing would be very positive.
On the whole O’Rourke hopes in his term as president to get more young people involved in boxing. He hopes to achieve this by having the media more involved in promoting Amateur boxing and by having more tournaments through out Ireland not just in Dublin. Also he stresses the importance of building towards a successful campaign in Athens, and to lay the structures towards a more successful future. On talking to him his natural enthusiasm for his sport comes through and he believes Irish boxing has a bright future. One can’t help but be convinced. Anyone who wants to get a glimpse of this future should pop along to the National Stadium on South Circular road to see the National championships which are being held over the next few weekends. For further details see www.iaba.ie .