How Boxing’s ‘Civil War’ Hurts Long-Time Servants of the Sport



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Paddy Kehoe is in his 83rd year and has dedicated his life to amateur boxing.

Like Tokyo Olympic champion Kellie Harrington, he was born in Portland Row in North Dublin city center and boxing within the famous British Rail club, he has had a distinguished career.

He was in contention for a place at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and held firm in three international fights against legendary Scottish Olympic champion Dick McTaggart.

He later became an international referee and was head coach of British Rail – now Dublin Docklands BC – for four decades. And with his late wife Olive, who was an international boxing timekeeper, he helped run the Dublin County Board.

Paddy Kehoe’s official role in Irish boxing and his 70-year membership in the Irish Athletic Boxing Association were formally terminated last month. “I think it’s shameful. I don’t know what’s going to happen, ”says Paddy.

The IABA banned 25 members after a membership panel, consisting of two lawyers and an official from another national sports organization, none of whom are involved in boxing, confirmed the Central Council’s decision of the IABA to withdraw their membership following a long dispute over the election of new directors.

It was a double whammy for the Kehoe family as his son Philip, who now runs Dublin Docklands, the home club of Tokyo Olympian Emmet Brennan, was also banned.

This is not a casualty war and the future of the Docklands club is in jeopardy because of the bans. Now based in Seville Place, the club welcomes boxers from one of Dublin’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“We took in a lot of boys who were on the wrong road and put them on the right road, and they appreciated that,” says Paddy, who was never officially informed of the decision to ban it. He does not have an e-mail address. Correspondence was sent to Phillip’s email address.

“I had to call my dad and tell him the news,” Philip said. “I told him ‘you won’t believe it, but your membership has been revoked.’ We went through the details of what had happened and how the Central Council had made the decision, and sent it back to the Board of Directors.

“Then we discussed the members of the Central Council and mentioned their names. These people have been my friends for over 30 years, and in my father’s case for much longer.

“I couldn’t believe it,” his father said.

Like all civil wars, the damage to personal relationships is what hits the hardest. For decades, Paddy Kehoe worked alongside the late Joe Kirwan at British Rail BC. Joe’s nephew, Ciarán Kirwan, is now chairman of the IABA board.

This is not the first time that Paddy has experienced the ugliest side of boxing politics. In 2008, the Dublin Council challenged in the High Court a decision to transform the IABA into a public limited company.

Not only did they lose the action, but three years later they were ordered to pay more than € 60,000 in legal costs. Thirty-one appointed board members, including Paddy and Olive Keogh, were held personally liable for the debt.

“They were threatening to take our house and everything. I still have all the letters somewhere, ”said Paddy. Phillip recalls helping organize fundraising events to foot the bill.

The case further deteriorates the relationship between the Dublin board and the board.

For the six Keogh siblings, the national stadium was their playground. Their parents brought them there when they officiated at championships.

A talented boxer, Philip has won six national titles. He also played Gaelic football with Parnells and was part of the Dublin minor and Dublin U-21 teams at the Leinster Championships.

His brother Seán runs East Meath BC, while another brother Patrick has won the Irish selection, both in boxing and football. He was the 2006 FAI Junior International Player of the Year.

But it fell to Philip to take over the reins of Docklands BC. “I healed him and I would have been lost without him,” Paddy says.

In 2008 he took over from his father as head coach at Docklands and in his own words he is now a head coach, secretary, goalkeeper and psychologist.

“I’m only on the periphery of boxing politics. My main interest is to coach and bring success to the club and these guys. We are located in a disadvantaged neighborhood.

“We saw the journey they take after they walk through the door. It gave them a whole different outlook on life. It has changed the lives of many children in the East Wall area.

Covid-19 has hit boxing hard, with the club forced to keep its doors locked for a while. After the restrictions were relaxed, they held outdoor workouts at Fairview Park

“It was so important to keep the kids interested and involved because we have very talented young boxers here. We didn’t want to lose them for the sport.

But he’s been in boxing long enough to know that despite the successes achieved internationally, there are serious issues that need to be addressed in the sport.

“It’s great that the IABA has this (training) facility in Abbotstown. I fully support all of this and the professional culture in sport. But the way the association manages and operates it leaves a lot to be desired.

The lack of a clear path for young boxers is causing the sport to lose talented fighters at an alarming rate, he suggests.

“Once they reach the age of 17 or 18, they quit or turn pro, which hurts the sport. There should be an appropriate career path in place for junior boxers. “

It was the desire to make his voice heard at the national level where key decisions are made that prompted Kehoe to run for Central Council. “A lot of the members in Dublin wanted him to show up,” says his father.

“I would like to be part of the creation of a new culture within IABA, a culture that has probably existed before, but has sort of disintegrated over the last few years. “

Since opening the IABA email, officially informing it that his membership has been revoked, Philip Kehoe has found it difficult to come to terms with the news.

“I have affected my professional life. I lost a bit of sleep over it as I reflect on what the future holds for boxing and the club. I can not understand.

“Boxing, to some extent, is in decline in this country. There is really no support for us. We are all volunteers. I am passionate about sport. I have a wife and a family to take care of, but boxing is my other family. I could be here at the club seven days a week coaching guys before a championship because I’m so passionate.

He suggests that the Central Council should have taken a more pragmatic approach to the crisis.

On reading the minutes of the Zoom meetings held by the Membership Panel which decided the fate, their lack of empathy struck him.

“The majority of those suspended have done boxing a lifelong service. In my father’s case, it’s 70; I gave over 30. But the panel members only talked about one thing: withdrawing our membership.

It is not just the fate of the 25 individual members that the SDSI, the body hearing their appeal, has in its hands. The future of many boxing clubs across the country is also at stake.

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