Clean up your act or else: IOC's Olympic boxing ultimatum
Existence of boxing on Olympic programme and recognition of AIBA ‘are under threat’
Acting AIBA president Gafur Rakhimov (right) at an international boxing event in Sochi earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images
Down but not yet out. Still adamant the International Boxing Association (AIBA) clean up its act or else, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has reiterated its warning that boxing is facing exclusion from Tokyo 2020, such is the “grave situation” within the governing body of the sport.
It follows confirmation on Wednesday that the AIBA have put forward Gafur Rakhimov as the sole nomination for the next AIBA president, despite his strong links to organised crime in his native Uzbekistan. Rakhimov has been acting as interim president since January, only without the approval of the IOC, who now remain at clear odds with the AIBA.
The IOC have offered some 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 overall of the qualification process, and possibly result is some countries boycotting.
After an executive board meeting in Buenos Aires last night, on the eve of the Youth Olympics Games, the IOC made their position clear: both the existence of boxing on the Olympic programme and the recognition of AIBA “are under threat”, such is the “grave situation” within the governing body of the sport.
Rakhimov’s permanent election is now set for the AIBA Congress in Moscow on November 2nd-3rd, as no other candidates made the election deadline, according to the Lausanne-based AIBA. Rakhimov may not be widely known in sporting circles, but he is to Interpol, and the US Treasury, for being a mafia boss with strong links to organised crime in Uzbekistan, even if he hasn’t yet been prosecuted for anything. He’s also denied all charges.
In a statement, the IOC “expressed its ongoing extreme concern with the grave situation within the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and its current governance. These include the circumstances of the establishment of the election list and the misleading communication within the AIBA membership regarding the IOC’s position. Such behaviour is affecting not just the reputation of AIBA and boxing but of sport in general.
“Therefore, the IOC reiterates its clear position that if the governance issues are not properly addressed to the satisfaction of the IOC at the forthcoming AIBA Congress, the existence of boxing on the Olympic programme and even the recognition of AIBA as an International Federation recognised by the IOC are under threat.
“At the same time, we would like to reassure the athletes that the IOC will - as it has always done in such situations and is currently doing at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 - do its upmost to ensure that the athletes do not have to suffer under these circumstances and that we will protect their Olympic dream.”
Boxing is one of the sports featuring in the Youth Olympics Games, but already some AIBA officials in Buenos Aires have had their accreditation withheld: according to IOC director of communications Mark Adams, the ultimatum is now clear.
“We have a month until the Congress of AIBA, but I think what’s clear is the IOC executive board wanted to send a very clear message that all steps are being considered, but not those that would penalise the athletes.
“A number of senior members of AIBA have not been accredited here, and there is independent oversight of the results system here, so we’re working to make sure the athletes won’t have their chance to compete taken away from them.”
At that time of his appointment as interim president, the US Treasury named Rakhimov among 10 individuals with alleged links to the Eurasian criminal entity, the Thieves-in-Law, born in the old Soviet Union prisons and believed to operate in an underworld network that has spread beyond Russia to the world’s leading financial centres.
The conflict between the IOC and the AIBA has been brewing all year: the IOC first suspended AIBA funding last December, and have gave them until April 30th to report back with the promise of proper reform on such basic issues as governance, finance, referring and anti-doping.
Without recognition, the AIBA would play no role in Tokyo 2020, including the qualification process, but it’s unclear whether or not the IOC could still stage a complete Olympic boxing programme.
Despite failing to win a medal in Rio, boxing remains Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport, the three medals won in Beijing 2008, plus four more in London 2012, making it 16 in total, one more than all other sports combined. Joe Ward is a leading light-heavyweight medal contender for Tokyo, the danger now being he may not even get to fight.
Rakhimov was also on Interpol’s most wanted list, before being removed last September, though 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, and now, despite the IOC warnings, from leading amateur boxing towards Tokyo 2020.