BRITISH BOXING could turn to Ireland's performance director for London 2012 but all sports will be hoping that doubts over a missing £100 million in funding are soon resolved, as DAVID OWEN reports
IT SEEMS only 10 minutes ago that middleweight James DeGale was kissing his Olympic gold medal in the Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium after outpointing Emilio Correa, his Cuban opponent.
Yet already British boxing is in the midst of a major shake-up, with UK Sport deciding to fund the sport through the revamped British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA), rather than the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE).
Now I gather that the breakneck pace of change is set to be maintained with BABA starting to advertise for a new performance director, probably as soon as this week.
Given the sport’s promising showing in Beijing, where DeGale’s gold and two additional bronzes made it British boxing’s best Games since 1956, there are likely to be plenty of top-class applicants.
Name in the frame
One name I have already heard mentioned is that of Jim Walsh, the Irish boxing team manager.
With the Irish boxers also enjoying a successful Games, winning a silver and two bronzes, there seems a certain logic to the suggestion, though I have no idea whether Walsh would entertain the notion of such a move.
Quite what this means for the future of Terry Edwards, the British head coach, is uncertain, although he will undoubtedly be invited to the apply for the role of peformance director if he is interested.
On the one hand, he has won widespread praise from influential figures ranging from John Steele, the UK Sport chief executive, to Richard Caborn, the ABAE president and former Sports Minister.
On the other, an incoming performance director - if it were not Edwards - would presumably want to determine his own top staff.
As they say, watch this space.
The world is taking notice of Britain
Britain’s outstanding results in Beijing in a range of sports, including boxing, have made the Olympic - and Paralympic - world sit up and take notice.
If I didn’t realise that before, I do now, after writing up the interview I conducted with Peter Keen, the head of performance at UK Sport, the funding body whose chair, Sue Campbell, was this week appointed to the House of Lords.
The last I heard, the piece - in which Keen explains at some length why he believes there is plenty of room for further improvement in Britain’s Olympic performance – had generated “hits” from 188 different National Olympic Committees.
Not far short of the full set.
What I didn’t touch on in that piece was the question still hovering over funding for Britain’s top Olympic athletes in the run-up to London 2012.
Namely, how much of the £100 million that then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown indicated well over two years ago would need to be sought from commercial sponsors is actually going to materialise?
I wrote in May that it would be no disaster if there was a shortfall and that Britain’s quest for a 2012 haul of 60-plus Olympic medals might have to be conducted on a smaller-than-anticipated budget.
I have to confess that events in Beijing have made me change my mind.
I now feel it would be a crying shame if the gathering economic gloom meant that Keen and his colleagues were deprived of the wherewithal to exploit their system to the max and see just how many medals a fully proficient British team could capture.
After all, this is that rarest of rare birds, a public project whose performance - measured by the Beijing medals count - is outstripping all expectations.
And, frankly, there was precious little else to lift Britain’s national spirits this summer.
Brown, who is now of course Prime Minister, this week acknowledged the impact of Team GB’s achievements at a reception attended by some 250 athletes and support staff at London’s Lancaster House, saying: “There has been nothing in recent years that has given me and so many other people so much pride as what you all have done.”
He also promised: “We will invest in you so that you can do the best that you can in 2012.”
In my view - and, yes, I know there are many distractions - Brown’s Government should now move quickly to guarantee the £100 million by promising to make good any shortfall.
Such a pledge might not actually cost them anything: the required figure has already been cut to £79 million, as more money is expected to come from the National Lottery, while fundraising initiatives such as the recently unveiled “Medal Hopes” scheme, giving UK businesses what are billed as “national, regional and local opportunities” to back British athletes in competitions building up to London 2012, will also contribute.
What it would enable Keen and Co to do is press on with their masterplan without worrying that it might ultimately need to be scaled back.
Given their stellar performance so far, I think it’s the least we could do for them.
David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the recent Beijing Olympics