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Keeping boxing coach Billy Walsh 'would have cost 1.6m euro'

Published 28/10/2015

Joe Christle said it was 'a source of huge regret' that Billy Walsh decided to resign
Joe Christle said it was 'a source of huge regret' that Billy Walsh decided to resign

Boxing chiefs have claimed a new contract for Ireland's most successful sports coach would have cost 1.6 million euro.

Joe Christle, chair of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA), said Billy Walsh was already the highest paid member of its staff and agreeing to the pay package would have been "irresponsible if not reckless".

The Joint Committee on Transport and Communications heard boxing's administrators feared a knock-on effect with other coaches and boxers demanding more money if Mr Walsh secured a deal which amounted to a 60% increase.

The IABA chiefs denied they wanted pay rises themselves if their hugely successful coaching chief got the lucrative deal.

"The directors are volunteers and receive no remuneration or expenses and so there is no question that these assessments were based on self-interest," he said.

Sport Ireland said it signed off on covering the cost of retaining Mr Walsh's services after contract negotiations broke down over the last eight months.

It put the salary figure at closer to 125,000 euro a year for three years.

"It was clear from the outset the non-financial matters were of paramount importance (to Mr Walsh)," John Treacy, Sport Ireland chief executive said.

The IABA did not set out how it calculated a 1.6 million euro liability if Mr Walsh agreed to move from being a permanent member of IABA staff to a new fixed-term contract.

Mr Christle revealed that while the organisation had issues over the large financial package, it also accepted all the money would be coming directly from Sport Ireland.

"The IABA was not in a position to make any contribution towards funding," he said.

Sport Ireland pointed to disputes over Mr Walsh's right to select his own team of boxers for competitions without needing sign-off from the IABA board and restrictions which forced him to seek written clearance for media appearances from IABA chief executive Fergal Carruth.

There was also unease over clauses in the contract which could be altered at one month's notice which the IABA described as "standard".

Kieran Mulvey, chair of Sport Ireland, revealed he twice challenged the IABA over allegations that there was a "dysfunctional relationship" between Mr Walsh and Mr Carruth.

"We are still at a loss how eight months passed on a negotiation with one of their most vital employees," he said.

The controversy over his resignation was played out in Leinster House as Mr Walsh was unveiled as the new head coach of USA Boxing's Women's Team.

He is now regarded as the best sports coach Ireland has produced, taking boxers to European, Olympic and most recently world glory, with Belfast bantamweight Michael Conlan emulating the gold medal world championship feats of Katie Taylor.

The Americans made clear the calibre of their new signing, billing him as the "architect behind the most successful era in Irish boxing".

Mr Walsh said: "It is a huge honour for me as a coach to receive the opportunity to work with such an iconic boxing nation as the United States.

"It was with great pride that I was part of building the successful Irish programme over the past several years and I hope to do the same with USA Boxing.

"I am greatly looking forward to the opportunities ahead in bringing my expertise and experience to the United States Women's Team as they prepare for success in Rio and beyond."

USA Boxing noted that Mr Walsh led Irish boxers to more than 50 medals in the European and World Championships along with seven medals in the last two Olympics.

Part of his new role will be to develop and execute the team's international calendar, oversee training programmes for Olympians and to identify elite coaches to guide athletes in international competitions and in their preparations.

Mr Walsh is in Memphis, Tennessee, to watch the women's Olympics team trials before moving to Colorado Springs in mid-November.

The IABA denied it orchestrated a campaign to force him out of his job and described relations with Mr Walsh as "very, very healthy".

Mr Christle told committee: "We wanted Billy to stay.

"It's a source of huge regret that Billy decided to resign but any suggestion that any director wanted Billy to leave is totally and utterly rejected.

"The suggestion that he is the victim of a campaign to oust him from his job is untrue."

Mr Treacy warned the IABA that some of the issues raised by Mr Walsh had been identified in a briefing paper written after the London 2012 Olympics.

The 2008 resignation of former director of the IABA high performance unit Gary Keegan was also raised, with the boxing chiefs insisting it happened under a different regime.

Officially Mr Keegan was never replaced after Sport Ireland vetoed the appointment of Dominic O'Rourke, who was instead given a four-year deal as boxing development officer in the IABA.

Mr Walsh, the committee heard, then acted as director in all but name, unofficially doing two jobs for more than five years.

On resigning as head coach he described being left in tears at his own departure.

The IABA called for the entire affair to be reviewed by an independent panel and it also defended chief executive Mr Carruth, who fielded only a handful of questions during nearly four hours of hearings.

Mr Christle added: "The chief executive, Fergal Carruth, has put himself on the record with everybody that even if there was a review, he feels that he is adequately paid and did not seek... to leverage his own position.

"He's a very modestly salaried CEO."

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