Former IABA high-performance director Billy Walsh, speaking on RTÉ, has lent his support to Bernard Dunne following his departure from the same position that he held in the boxing organisation.
alsh, Team USA’s head coach since 2016, was speaking from Istanbul where the where the AIBA Women’s World Championships are taking place, and stated that he wants Sport Ireland and the Irish Government to step in and “make people accountable for their actions” in the fallout of Dunne’s exit.
Dunne’s resignation as high-performance director stems from a complaint he lodged with the IABA back in October 2021 after an unsigned SWOT analysis critical of his performance was circulated in the association prior to the Tokyo Games, where Ireland’s boxers would memorably deliver gold through Kellie Harrington) and bronze from Aidan Walsh.
The IABA said that it “has always regarded this document as malicious and an appalling attack on a member of staff and on the high performance unit”, airing their hope that Dunne will reconsider and return to his post.
However Walsh, who resigned from the same high-performance position in 2015, said too much damage has been done for Dunne to come back, adding that the Dubliner has been in “a bad place” for months.
“I think it’s crazy to be at this stage,” Walsh said on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live. “Three (high) performance directors later, two Oireachtas Committee meetings – which ended up just being talk shops – and nothing has happened.
“Nobody has stood up and actually taken these people to task. It’s a disgrace. There’s people’s psychological welfare being affected by this.
“Sport Ireland, or the Irish Government, need to stand up and make people accountable for their actions – or their inactions.
“To leave was such a difficult thing for me. I spent lots of nights crying on my own. I was in Doha when I made the decision that I was going to resign.
“Psychologically, I was in a bad place and I know Bernard has been in a bad place for several months now, because this has been going on since February 2021 and it hasn’t been resolved. Nobody has stood up and supported me or supported Bernard. I think Sport Ireland has a lot to answer for.”
“The same people are there and they are allowing this to happen – or, they’re part of what’s happening.”
Part of the conflict within the IABA comes from the desire of what the IABA calls “a small cohort of the Irish boxing family” to see the selection of Team Ireland boxers for international competition made by people other than high performance staff.
“We’ve been there since 2003,” added Walsh. “Gary Keegan (the IABA high performance director who preceded Walsh) had to fight all our battles at the very beginning.
“Then I took on the mantle after 2008, and Bernard took it on in 2017. We all faced similar problems throughout that time – not being allowed to do your job, not having any autonomy to do your job.
“There’s 30 people in a central council that come to a meeting once a month and they want to select a team. That’s like the Kilkenny county board picking Brian Cody’s team.
“The leaders within the organisation are the same leaders that were there when I left. The same people are there and they are allowing this to happen – or, they’re part of what’s happening.”
Expanding on how Dunne is dealing with the situation, Walsh said: “I think Bernard is in a better place now that he’s made the decision. The turmoil to leave your dream job was very daunting for me and I know Bernard has had similar problems dealing with it. But now he’s made the decision, he’s in a better place.
“This programme is boxing central. It’s about the athletes. It should be about the athletes. Unfortunately, the IABA has not made it about the athletes. It’s about them, it’s about their egos, and it’s about their power and control.
“At this stage, I don’t think he’s going to come back. What has gone on, has gone on for too long. (The IABA) are closing the gate after the horse has bolted.”