IBA / Women in boxing / Interviews

Discover the inspiring journey of Sadie Duffy: The woman shaping boxing’s officiating landscape

February 20th, 2024 / IBA, Women in boxing, Interviews

Boxing often captivates individuals in unique ways. For Ireland’s Sadie Duffy, it was her husband Eamon who was a boxer and brought her attention to the sport. Back in 1997, she passed her first exam to become Referee & Judge (R&J) to understand boxing from the inside out.

Today, the newly appointed first-ever female IBA Referee & Judges Committee Chair, Sadie Duffy recalls her involvement in the sport and reflects on the pathway behind – and ahead.

‘My husband retired from boxing and became a coach at the local club. I was always attending local tournaments and championships and enjoyed the competitiveness and skill of the sport,’ she noted.

‘On reflection, I never envisaged that one day I would be in this position.  At times the challenges were tough but, those that know me, know that I can be stubborn. 1997 was ‘a moment in time’ that shaped refereeing and judging in Ireland – the glass ceiling was broken,’ Sadie added.

Throughout her career, she officiated hundreds of bouts of various scale starting from local events in Co Donegal to the global-scale IBA major events. In 2014, Sadie became an IBA 3-Star R&J.

‘A good Referee & Judge should always be honest and fair to all boxers. They should have an excellent understanding of the IBA Technical and Competitions Rules with the knowledge of how and when to apply them,’ she mentioned.

In fact, there are so much more detail that differentiates a good R&J from an outstanding one, and Sadie has always been a role model with her impeccable style in the ring. She gave an example of a referee who should, according to Sadie, pay attention first to identifying the stance of both rival boxers.

‘In any bout, I firmly believe that we all must understand the Rules as the Referee only has a split second to make a decision in the ring,’ the R&Js Committee Chairwoman explains.

Sadie’s path in officiating hasn’t been an easy one, she admitted. ‘It was difficult being a woman R&J in a male dominated sport. But gradually, I believe I gained the respect of coaches, boxers, and fellow officials. There were a few obstacles along the way, but this challenged me to become stronger and proved that women can be equal and work together with our male counterparts,’ Sadie claimed.

‘IBA has always supported diversity in our sport. The profile has been elevated with the excellent work being done by the IBA Diversity Committee,’ she stressed.

In the early years, Sadie combined her boxing official career with a full-time job.

‘I was a production manager for a clothing manufacturing company. Over the past years my work career changed a few times, but I’ve been fortunate that my employers always supported my interest in boxing,’ she admitted.

One memorable and historical fight Duffy was officiating as a referee was the first amateur bout of Katie Taylor back in 2001 at National Stadium in Dublin.

‘I remember it clearly – it was, history in the making. It was a milestone moment in Irish boxing and inspired many young girls and women to get involved in the sport,’ Sadie recalls. 

She confirmed that she thought that same day that Katie Taylor, the winner of the bout, could become a star of women’s boxing, saying ‘The skill and determination from a young Katie in 2001 was evident and that she would achieve greatness in boxing.’

‘It was always a privilege to be appointed for any event, and a greater honour to officiate at the highest level with top class boxers,’ she mentioned.

For a Referee & Judge it is truly rewarding to be able to enjoy your sport, as well as witness the progression and development of boxers from around the world, according to Sadie.

In September 2022, Sadie Duffy qualified as an International Technical Official (ITO), as well as R&J Evaluator and R&J Instructor. The role of ITO implies several positions at the events, including but not limited to Referee and Judge Evaluator, Observer, Draw Commissioner, Equipment Manager and Referee and Judge Coordinator.

‘The ITO position allows one to see how boxing functions from the inside. Transitioning from R&J to ITO is a big responsibility and it is our duty to ensure that every event is conducted to a high standard, both from an organisation perspective and that of the boxers. In this role, I enjoy ‘Sharing the Knowledge’, a robust programme the IBA Development has in place.  Education and continued professional development (CPD) are the key to success,’ she stressed.

She also found her work “encouraging” as an instructor and in particular her work with enthusiastic R&Js and assisting them in developing their career. 

In March 2023, Sadie Duffy successfully passed the Technical Delegate course that allowed her to play the biggest possible role within the Field of Play. By the end of the year, she received an appointment as an IBA Referee & Judge Committee Chairperson becoming its first female Chair.

‘I never dreamed that I would be here. I’m not under any illusion that it will be easy, however I do have a great team of experienced personnel to work with and I will endeavour to fulfil the role with pride and honor in the best interest of the sport,’ Sadie claimed.

‘The main goal is that boxing will remain in the Olympic program and I believe that IBA will be the organisation to lead us in the future,’ she added.

In her opinion, boxing would benefit from bringing professional officials into the sport. She also claimed that thanks to development programs of the IBA and qualified specialists, the organization can ensure the flawless implementation of the Rules.  

‘Any system is only as good as the people using it – IBA has education programs in place before all major competitions. The idea is that Confederations embrace the same module with the support from IBA.’

The New Generation Scoring System, developed by UNIXON Systems in cooperation with the Japan Boxing Federation and LiveMedia Corporation presented at the Global Boxing Forum in December 2023 will be tested in the foreseeable future, Sadie claimed.

‘IBA is always open to new ideas and systems with the long-term objective that it will improve our sport. It’s early days yet, the plan is to test the new system in the coming months,’ the Chairwoman said.

‘Now – the focus is to bring our Boxing Family together. Communication and Education will be key to standardise all roles within boxing. None of us will be around forever – it’s important to identify and nurture those that possess leadership qualities, and it will be all our responsibility to ensure our sport is managed at a top level,’ Sadie Duffy concluded.