Two sports that have accounted for more than half of Ireland’s entire haul of Olympic medals are not on the Olympic roster for Los Angeles 2028.
Boxing and lightweight rowing are not on the Olympic schedule for the LA Games with boxing in danger of also not being part of Paris 2024 if the current dispute between the International Boxing Association (IBA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is not resolved.
The IOC can organise the Olympic boxing competition in Paris as they did successfully in Tokyo, ousting the IBA from any involvement. However, the supply of boxing officials for the Paris competition could be disrupted or stopped by the governing body.
Ireland has won 35 Olympic medals overall, with 18 of those coming from boxing. Three have also been won in lightweight rowing, which equates to 21 medals or about 60 per cent of Ireland’s total.
For rowing the decision not to include the lightweight category in LA is a fait accompli, with the IOC deciding that there should be no different weight categories in the sport. It is expected open-water coastal rowing will make its Olympic debut in Los Angeles in place of the lightweight races.
“They [Rowing Ireland] are very much aware of it, and to be fair, Antonio [Maurogiovanni, high performance director] has been transitioning and looking at different weight classes,” said Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) chief executive Peter Sherrard.
“They have beach rowing coming in, that’s experimental at the World Beach games we will do this year. They are aware they need to transition to it.”
Skibbereen’s Paul O’Donovan won a lightweight gold medal with Fintan McCarthy in Tokyo 2022 and a silver with brother Gary in Rio 2016.
It is boxing that is the current moving target with the IBA in ongoing open conflict with the IOC.
“I think we are confident that boxing will be at the Olympics in 2024, a massive commitment from the IOC,” said OFI president Sarah Keane. “The challenge is whether they [IOC] are going to have the people required to run the tournament. Ultimately, they oversee the running of the Olympic Games and are not supposed to run events within the Olympic Games. They thought they would just be doing this for Tokyo.”
Recently the IBA infuriated the IOC when they outlined a qualification system for the Paris Olympics which was different from the one decided by the Olympic body. The different pathways have been misleading for athletes, although the OFI are in no doubt about which system takes priority for Olympic Games qualification.
“The IBA is not involved in the IOC qualification,” said Keane. “It is an IOC qualification pathway. That is why it’s been confusing as the IBA came out with their own qualification pathway which doesn’t exist.”
The IOC have the option of deregistering the IBA as the governing body for boxing in Olympic sport. However, the likelihood is that would end up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
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Last June, CAS ruled that Dutch official Boris van der Vorst should have been eligible to stand in the IBA presidential election. However incumbent president Umar Kremlev of Russia was elected by acclamation with no ballot taken.
“There is a concern that things will get dirtier and dirtier, particularly if something happens later in the year. One can understand that national federations have a concern if they go against the current international movement, where is their pathway,” said Sherrard. “It’s all moving fast. But 2028 is the concern. I don’t think it’s registered in people’s minds it [boxing] is not going to be on the programme for 2028.”
Keane was also clear that Ireland would not be following the lead of the Baltic States, who have threatened to boycott the 2024 Games in a dispute over whether Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to compete.
The IOC drew a furious reaction from Kyiv and beyond when it announced it was working on a way for Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes under certain conditions. Athletes from both countries have been excluded from many international sports events since Russia launched its all-out war on Ukraine last year.
“Ireland will not be boycotting the 2024 Olympic Games,” she said. “Full stop. If our athletes decide they don’t want to go, that is up to them. But we will not be boycotting. The only people who lose out of that is the athletes and teams. Our board has discussed that and at this point that’s the consensus. That is the very strong feeling and that too of the athletes’ commission.
“The Minister, we had discussions with him, and his position is he will not interfere with the autonomy of the OFI and does not want to do anything that is anti-athlete. So, he will state the Government’s position very clearly. But he will leave us to do our business.”