If Olympics kick out boxing, Ireland will be the biggest loser

IOC has fired a warning shot over AIBA’s bows, but will it be enough to steady the ship?

The IOC reiterated its threat that boxing could be thrown out of the programme for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The IOC reiterated its threat that boxing could be thrown out of the programme for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

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You would like to think the AIBA is going through the three stages of humanity: theological, metaphysical and positive. Heck, that’s probably not what is going on.

Apocryphal probably, but word has it the crew that runs amateur boxing are being asked to wear bells around their necks to warn other sporting federations of their imminent approach.

Apologies if sensitivities are offended. But they are used to being offended. Offence comes when all else fails. Over the last 15 years offence has not made a difference.

This week the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued yet another snarling threat that forewarns boxing of truly leprous status. It has threatened to yank the colony accreditation for Paris 2024, demand their guns and shields.

For Ireland and athletes such as Tokyo gold medal winner Kellie Harrington and all the young boxers she inspires, an Olympic committee prepared to slam the door on the sport represents an almost existential crisis. It would also more than halve the number of medals Ireland might win in future Olympic Games.

Of the 35 medals won since the first (Dr Pat O’Callaghan’s 1928 gold in the hammer event in Amsterdam), 18 of them, or more than 50 per cent, have been won by boxers. The sport has featured in all of the summer games since 1904. Shutting off that opportunity for Ireland would have serious downstream consequences for funding.

It is possible that you think you have read this before. Perhaps you saw something similar three years ago in 2018, when the IOC announced it had put plans on hold for the boxing competition in Tokyo after launching an investigation into the sport following Rio 2016.

There, former world champion Michael Conlan proved himself to be one of the most articulate of athletes, his sweeping stream of profanities a refreshing take, one that presaged the suspension of all the Rio boxing referees.

Architect

But there was more. It wasn’t just allegations of corruption. The organisation had been run by the fabulous Dr Wu, a Taiwanese architect and former basketball player.

Under Wu, the colony faced bankruptcy after investors demanded it immediately pay back millions of dollars in loans and investments. Azerbaijani company Benkons sent a letter, asking for an immediate repayment of a $10 million loan from 2011.

That number happened to be over $2 million more than the organisation had in its accounts. Benkons insisted any claims that a repayment schedule had been agreed were “false”. KPMG refused to certify the colony accounts for two years, 2015-2016. Wu was forced out. He said it was political.

Despite IOC protests, the doctor was replaced by Uzbek businessman Gafur Rakhimov. He lasted 18 months as president despite allegations from the USA, which he denied, that he was head of an international criminal network.

From the off Rakhimov was forced to fend off accusations from the US that he was one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals with links to the global heroin trade.

What was more difficult to deny was that he was on a US Treasury sanctions list for alleged links to organised crime. The sanctions barred US citizens and companies from doing business with him.

He left as the IOC investigated governance and financial mismanagement in the organisation. Rakhimov claimed it was political and reassured boxing he remained “faithful” to the sport and was available if they ever needed his help.

Throughout, there was a sense the political manoeuvres were taking place in the clouds and did not relate to anything at ground level like athletes competing in the ring, or the actual staging of competitions like the Olympic Games.

But now they do. Tokyo this summer was the first physical expression of the conflict. The IOC did not trust boxing to run the Olympic competition so it created a task force independent of the federation and ran the event themselves. In most sports that would rank as podium-level humiliation.

Black sheep

The IOC had grown weary of the black sheep that kept falling off the wagon and, even with encouragement and regular intervention, seemed helpless to initiate transparent change.

So last week the IOC updated, sharpened and took aim again, warning boxing that its “deepest concerns in the three areas, governance, finance, refereeing and judging that led to the original suspension remained unresolved”. It reiterated its threat that boxing could be thrown out of the programme for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The Olympic body added that it could not find any significant integration of best practices suggested by them for the upcoming men’s World Championships in Belgrade. It also wanted boxing to confirm details of how they resolved their indebtedness and the terms of any sponsorship contracts.

Why? Because Umar Kremlev, the latest installation as president since last December, had brought in Russia’s biggest company Gazprom as a major sponsor.

Last week Kremlev declared a $100,000 prize for every gold medal at the upcoming men’s World Championships, $50,000 for silver and $25,000 for bronze from a $2.5 million prize fund.

That caught attention, the introduction of large sums of money into a space with governance, financial and integrity issues.

Boxing is actually on “bargaining” – the third stage of grief – and clearly not traversing the various stages of humanity. Either way, if the sport does not snap to heel and is ejected from the Olympic roster for Paris, Ireland could find itself among the biggest losers.

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