Boxing at Tokyo 2020 Olympics still facing uncertainty

Boxing will remain a part of the Olympic programme but AIBA has been suspended

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach opens the meeting of the IOC executive committee on boxing at the 2020 Olympic Games. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach opens the meeting of the IOC executive committee on boxing at the 2020 Olympic Games. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images

 

Spared a knockout punch, boxing is still facing something of a standing count over its position at next year Tokyo Olympics, its current stance looking shaken and more than a little confused.

The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to suspend the International Boxing Association (AIBA) as the Olympic governing body for the sport means the AIBA will play no part in the organising or delivery of the boxing events in Tokyo, the full and lasting consequences of which remain to be seen.

It’s the first time in Olympic history that the governing body of any sport has been suspended in this way, some reflection of the IOC’s seriousness with the AIBA issues in the areas of finance, governance, ethics and refereeing and judging – all of which were highlighted in the damning 30-page report from the IOC Inquiry Committee, set up last November to examine the AIBA affairs.

The AIBA was already threatening legal action should the IOC cut them off, an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) another option, and there is also the distinct possibility of some form an Olympic boycott by the AIBA supporting nations, of which there are many.

New guidelines

While the IOC decision does clear the way for boxing to maintain its place on the schedule for Tokyo, the boxing programme, including all qualifying competitions, will be organised following new guidelines established by the IOC Executive Board: weight categories and quota places haven’t yet been determined, presenting plenty of uncertainty for any boxers looking to qualify.

Although Irish boxers failed to win a medal in Rio, not helped by some extremely dubious judging, Joe Ward is a leading medal contender at light-heavyweight for Tokyo, as is current world women’s lightweight champion Kellie Harrington. It will be January 2020, at the earliest, before their qualification process will begin.

Announcing the decision at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, IOC president Thomas Bach also confirmed the establishment of a special task force to oversee the planning of boxing in Tokyo without the input of AIBA: it will be chaired by IOC member and president of the International Gymnastic Federation (FIG) Morinari Watanabe, the first task of which will be to agree some sort of qualifying criteria. Just over a year out from the Games, easier said than done.

“I’m sure you can make you own judgement on this inquiry and these issues,” Bach said of the IOC Inquiry report, “starting with the financial situation of AIBA, going over the serious deficiencies in the governance of AIBA, and also conflict of interest situations.

“We want to ensure that the athletes can live their dream and participate in the Tokyo 2020, while drawing the necessary consequences for AIBA following the recommendations of the Inquiry Committee. These two decisions were taken in consideration of the athletes and the sport of boxing.”

It is, however, unknown territory for both boxing and the IOC: “There was the need for it,” added Bach, “but I also hope quite frankly it’s the last time, that we face such a high number of issues with any international federation. I really hope this is a unique experience.”

Asked how exactly the boxing programme in Tokyo might take shape, Bach also said: “The taskforce exactly has to answer that, to find the right formula to organise, and with whom, the Olympic qualifiers, and the tournament, and I’m sure they will look into all areas, and make contact with some professional boxing federations, and other partners in this respect.

“Mr Watanabe, the chair, is president of aninternational federation with judging and referring, and what it needs to ensure it is fair, so we can rely on his expertise, and close relationship with the Tokyo organising committee.”

AIBA had insisted it has made improvements and has addressed the “grave” concerns of the IOC, including Uzbekistan’s Gafur Rakhimov, whose election as President in November was the catalyst for the inquiry, before stepping down in March. Rakhimov had been acting as interim president since January 2018, only without the approval of the IOC, who were concerned with his links to organised crime in Uzbekistan, and also known to Interpol, and the US Treasury.

Bach made it clear Rakhimov was still a concern: “Furthermore, the consequences of the position of Mr Rakhimov for AIBA, and for all US-related individuals and organisations, have obviously played a major role in the deliberations of the inquiry committee. Then all the other issues and details you can read from the very clear and extensive report of the inquiry commission.”

Legal challenge

Asked about a potential appeal or legal challenge by AIBA, Bach added: “It is not up to me to have those expectations, we have our decision here, and this decision is on the table. But not all the issues were there before Rio 2016, the financial situation with AIBA was still very different, they still had bank accounts in Switzerland.”

Qualifying events for Tokyo will now likely take place between January and May of next year, leaving a short run-in for the Games, which begin in July. Should the boxing programme go ahead in full, however, it can be a lot more hopeful of being spared some of the clearly dubious judging decisions in Rio.

It appears little had changed since then, the IOC claiming the AIBA “presents serious legal, financial and reputational risks to the IOC and the Olympic Movement”

The report added: “AIBA has been unable to demonstrate a sustainable and fair management of refereeing and judging processes and decisions, increasing the lack of confidence that athletes can have in fair competitions”.

All too late for the likes of Michael Conlan, and countless others.

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