After resigning as secretary of the IABA following 40 years of service, Al Morris has branded the organisation’s recent conduct “a disgrace” in an extraordinary interview on RTÉ’s Game On 2FM.
The Wicklow man has been involved in the IABA at numerous levels since the ’70s, and explained to Damien O’Meara that he resigned both due to frustration with the various shenanigans going on around him, and in order to publicly shed light on the farce that has blighted his beloved sport in Ireland for the past two years – a situation which has escalated significantly in recent months.
The IABA’s warring Board of Directors and Central Council will convene tomorrow evening in an attempt to rectify what has rapidly become a humiliating situation for their sport, and Morris first touched upon the sheer state of Irish amateur boxing’s governing body as a whole:
Over the last two years, I felt boxing went down because of the conflict between the Board of Directors, the Central Council, the interference, the tit-for-tat, the misinformation being given out and the latest cliché, ‘fake news’.
The real story wasn’t getting out to the public, and it was affecting boxing people. All of the lovely boxing coaches, hundreds of volunteers in clubs, county boards and provincial councils…all of them getting a bad name and getting stick.
Everything was being blamed on the blazers. I’m one of the blazers, but I’ve done nothing but good for boxing! And all of our coaches know this is very bad, and our young boxers…it’s great when we come back with Olympic medals, and Multi-Nations and Europeans and Worlds, and it’s wonderful news, and it gives a great boost to everybody – to all the boys and girls around the country. It gives them a target.
And this kind of bad news and carry on is a disgrace. I said, ‘Enough is enough’. This is why I resigned. I’ve been involved 40 years at every level, and it’s not what I was in boxing for. The joy is gone out of it, and I’ll tell ya, I’ve had lots of phonecalls from people. Clubs, coaches, officials have been onto me and have said, ‘It’s about time someone spoke up’.
I was reading about Pat Hickey and I felt, ‘we’re actually getting the same, people are not speaking out’. And I wasn’t going to have it. I could only speak out once I’d left.
O’Meara then asked how dysfunctional the IABA was as an organisation, to which Morris responded that it’s not overly dysfunctional in spite of recent spats. He praised the “genuine boxing people” at grass roots, those who contribute in “clubs, villages and towns and cities around the country.”
He then broke down the crux of the IABA’s current divide:
But the structures are there in the rulebook – new rules have to be brought in to bring it up to date. The world body [AIBA] are sending us – every week or two – a new rule. We have to implement it. Now, it takes a long time. 2006 was the last rulebook. That’s our bible at the moment until this new one is issued. And as some of the trouble started we had a committee and we put an awful lot of time into it, but then the Board of Directors – they got in an adviser, who was supposed to advise. But low and behold, the Board of Directors ended up issuing their own rulebook, which gave them more power than the Central Council.
And this is what it’s about: power.
What it is, is egos and looking to hold onto power. And having the final say. They should behave themselves and act like adults, and put the boxing first. The boxers and their clubs – that’s what’s more important. You don’t get this in the FAI, the GAA…you have arguments – every association does – but they don’t go public, and they don’t go disaffecting the sport. It’s too good a sport, and it does an awful lot of good for lots of kids.
There’s a big meeting tomorrow with the Board of Directors, and they’ve invited the delegates from the Central Council, and hopefully they see sense, and knock heads together for the good of boxing. I feel they’re not putting boxing first, they’re putting themselves first. That’s not good.
As to whether or not – or when – that new rulebook is implemented, remains to be seen. Sport Ireland have publicly demanded it, but Morris is sceptical as to whether various, deep-running grievances on either side of the great Irish boxing divide can be put to rest for the benefit of both the governing body and the sport.
The onus, he maintains, is on president Pat Ryan and chairman Joe Christle to work things out. If they can’t, Morris – who knows both men extremely well – suggests they both leave their respective posts.
We have to have a new rulebook. Things have changed, social media, all this. Lots of things have changed in sport and life. We definitely have to bring it up to scratch. But it’s a matter of them getting together and agreeing, and certain things they’ll never agree on, but they should agree to disagree. They have to come to some kind of agreement for a rulebook, and to make the changes that are necessary.
The two heads of both groups [president and chairman]: they’re responsible, they’re supposed to be the leaders. They should show leadership. It’s as simple as that. And if they don’t, they should go.
Maybe an outsider [is needed], who is in neither camp, and will see this for the good of the sport. You literally need to be a referee between two fighters. You need someone to control it.
It can be a long process, but they have to start somewhere. If I was refereeing this as if they were fighters, both would have a warning. We’d have boxing rules. Three warnings and you’re disqualified. Well, I’d be disqualifying both of them.
As for chief executive Fergal Carruth, who has so often drawn the ire of the sporting public during the IABA’s plethora of civil wars – or battles within the same war – in recent years, Morris almost sympathetically suggested he had little role to play in either the dispute or potential remedies.
Unfortunately, I think he is a pawn. And I feel sometimes, some of the officers on the Board have been pawns as well. Things have happened without our knowledge. And then there’s the slant, you’re either one camp or the other. They don’t see reason. It’s wrong, and it’s like what Edmund Burke said: ‘All that it takes for bad to carry on is for good to stay silent’. Well, I’m not staying silent.
Presenter O’Meara then put it to Morris that he might have been better remaining in his position where he could initiate change as opposed to resigning as he did yesterday, suggesting he’s now ‘looking into the tent the same as the rest of us’.
Yes, but for the past…over a year, I’ve been in the tent trying to do something, but it doesn’t work like that.
The former honorary secretary then called for both the Board of the Directors and Central Council to hold elections in order to rid the organisation of its current toxicity – a sentiment with which the majority of boxing people on this island would wholeheartedly agree.
The IABA has to be restructured. At tomorrow night’s board meeting, if they cannot sort it out, well then have an election for both Central Council and the Board of Directors. And lets get new people in who will have no agenda, and who are going to be there for the interest of boxing and the association.
Morris did however dismiss the notion that Sport Ireland should enforce such elections upon the IABA, and was extremely critical of their threats to withold funding from Irish amateur boxing if the situation is not amended.
As he put it, “they don’t get involved in IRFU or GAA or anyone else,” and it’s “not their job” to cut funding on the basis that there are problems in-house with the IABA. In spite of his criticism, Morris insisted that “the money is being spent properly,” regardless of the body’s current predicament.
It’s up to [the Board and the Council]. This is the end of the line for them. Either get it sorted or go. And that’s it. And as far as Sport Ireland and the Minister, I don’t want to be hearing about them giving out in the media and things. They should be doing it on the quiet. That’s their job.
He then took us back to the disaster that was the Rio Olympics, and suggested that Irish official Séamus Kelly’s accusations that the world governing body’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ officials were corrupt, combined with Michael O’Reilly’s doping violation and the IABA’s general ineptitude, cost Ireland’s fighters dearly last summer.
I’ll put it to you like this: think of Rio. That’s where the real damage started, that’s where the results of the damage came – at international level. Ireland were not going to get any favours during those Olympics. I said it at a Board meeting. With an official accusing other officials of cheating at a World Championship – an Irish official did this – we were in the bad books. And the same officials that he accused were the ones at the Olympics. So we weren’t getting any favours if anything was close. But unfortunately, there were ones which were not close and we still didn’t get the decisions. That’s how it bad it came for us.
And then with Michael O’Reilly, the drugs, I wanted him to come out, put his hands up – he made a mistake – and come home. But no. It was dragged on. And that’s really part of what happened.
For all of his candid criticism, however, Morris defended the organisation in light of suggestions from Sport Ireland and others that they had ‘undermined’ new High Performance Director Bernard Dunne.
The appointment of Gerry O’Mahony of the Munster Boxing Council as team manager for the upcoming European Championships was viewed as controversial, as was the box-off between Martin Keenan and Dean Gardiner to discover who would represent Ireland at super-heavyweight in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
At the time it was reported that Dunne preferred Irish Senior Elite champion Keenan, who had triumphed at the National Stadium in February while Gardiner recovered from an injury. The Central Council reportedly preferred 2016 champion Gardiner, and chose him instead. Appeals from Keenan’s team resulted in the box-off.
But Dunne, in his current capacity as High Performance Director, should have had the final decision as per the Rio Review, and so many were left wondering as to why there was even a debate.
In a statement released at the time, the IABA’s Central Council insisted that while they were in favour of adopting the measures outlined in the Rio Review, they were within their rights to ignore the selection the High Performance Director’s selection until a new rulebook was formally approved by the Council.
Morris disputed this version of events, however.
This is part of the fake news I’m telling you about. Misinformation. I give it to the president, he stated at the Central Council meeting – the previous one – that they fully support Bernard Dunne, and everybody was right behind him.
He gave us a list of nine boxers, we agreed with every one of them, but the ninth one was at super-heavy and he gave us a choice of [Martin] Keenan or [Dean] Gardener: a box-off. So we went with it, and we got a box-off.
As regards Bernard, I thought it was proposed that we send a team manager with Bernard. The team manager would look after all the nitty-bitty pieces to let [Dunne] get on with networking and overall management. It was to help him, it wasn’t to undermine him. We’re fully behind Bernard. Nobody could say anything about Bernard Dunne other than give him full support.
As is so often the case with the IABA, there will be plenty more to follow when they meet tomorrow.
— Gavan Casey, BALLS.IE