Boxing could keep place at 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Controversial AIBA president Gafur Rakhimov announces intention to stand down

AIBA president Gafur Rakhimov has announced his intention to stand down from the role. Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty

AIBA president Gafur Rakhimov has announced his intention to stand down from the role. Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty

 

After what felt like a worryingly long count, Irish boxers now have a proper fighting chance of being in the ring at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

It follows the decision of International Boxing Association (AIBA) president Gafur Rakhimov to stand down in the face of a continuing conflict with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), thus lifting the real threat of boxing being excluded from Tokyo, at least for now.

Rakhimov has agreed to step aside to allow an interim president to assume the role ahead of Tokyo 2020: while stopping short of resigning, it is now expected the executive committee of the AIBA will appoint an interim president this weekend.

In a statement, Rakhimov said: “Given the current situation, I have informed the AIBA Executive Committee of my intent to step aside as AIBA President in accordance with the AIBA Statutes and Bylaws, which allow the President to renounce to exercise his powers and to be replaced by an Interim President.”

After a chaotic election at the AIBA congress last November, Rakhimov won 86 of the 134 votes cast, enough for the Uzbekistan native to seal the presidency against the sole other candidate, Kazakhstan’s Serik Konakbayev.

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. His permanent election renewed the conflict with the IOC, which has been brewing since 2017: the IOC first suspended AIBA funding in December 2017 worth some $17.3 million post Rio 2016, and have made repeated calls on the need for proper reform on governance, finance, refereeing and anti-doping.

Ahead of Rakhimov’s election, the IOC reiterated its warning that boxing was facing exclusion from Tokyo 2020, such is the “grave situation” within the governing body of the sport.

Rakhimov is still taking credit for improving the AIBA after he first became interim president in January. “I truly believe that the work done this last year has revitalised and energised AIBA and boxing,” he added. “However, despite these efforts, there have been many discussions these last few months about the future of Olympic boxing.

“A lot of that was mainly focused on politics and not sport. While I had truly hoped and believed that sport and politics could be separated, and that the good work and positive changes being infused into AIBA would be recognised, the politically based discussions have put into question the progress being made throughout the AIBA organisation.”

Rakhimov may not be known in sporting circles, but he is to Interpol, and the US Treasury, for his links to organised crime in Uzbekistan, even if he hasn’t yet been prosecuted for anything. He has denied all charges. Rakhimov was also on Interpol’s most wanted list, before being removed last September, and his alleged links with the mafia and the heroin trade saw him refused entry to Australia for the Sydney Olympics back in 2000. It didn’t stop him serving as AIBA vice-president for the last 15 years.

Despite failing to win a medal in Rio, not helped by some extremely dubious judging, boxing remains Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport with 16 medals won in total. Joe Ward is a leading medal contender at light-heavyweight for Tokyo, as is current world women’s lightweight champion Kellie Harrington.

The IOC had offered hope that boxing in Tokyo could still be organised on an independent basis, should the AIBA fail to meet their standards of reform. However, that would likely conflict further with the AIBA, require a total overhaul of the qualification process, and possibly result in some countries boycotting.

The next stage will be confirmation of the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers, including the 2019 AIBA World Boxing Championships, due to be held in Yekaterinburg, Russia from September 7th to September 21st; they were originally awarded to Sochi, before being moved to the more remote venue.

The Russian venue, however, is still pending on the final decision of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Compliance Review Committee (CRC), given Russia had been considered non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code, only to be reinstated last year, pending the release of further evidence. Earlier this month the IAAF, the athletics world body, again refused to declare Russia compliant.

The 2019 Women’s World Championships were also awarded to the Russian city Ulan-Ude; Ulan-Ude is located in East Siberia, the capital of the Republic of Buryatia, 3,500 miles east of Moscow. The road to Tokyo will not be easy.

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