Olympic boxing facing fresh threat of exclusion after AIBA election

Gafur Rakhimov elected new president of AIBA in defiance of Olympic Council

Boxing is now facing the ever increasing danger of being excluded from the Tokyo Olympics after the International Boxing Association (AIBA) today elected Gafur Rakhimov as their next president.

After a properly chaotic election at the AIBA congress at the Radisson Royal Hotel in Moscow - electronic voting eventually abandoned in favour of a paper ballot - 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, only without the approval of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who have already warned against his strong links to organised crime in his native Uzbekistan.

However, his permanent election will now renew the conflict with the IOC, which has been brewing all year: the IOC first suspended AIBA funding last December, and had 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.


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

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.

In January the AIBA “installed” Rakhimov as their interim president. The AIBA did expel several judges after the 2016 Rio Olympic fiasco, only to later reinstall some of them, although their anti-doping is still largely non-existent and there’s still no formal project to improve referring.

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.

The AIBA had originally chosen the Italian Franco Falcinelli as their new president, to replace CK Wu (eventually forced out of office after 11 years following several allegations of financial mismanagement, including a "missing" €8.5 million loan). After Falcinelli decided to step down, Rakhimov was then "installed" during a lunch break at the AIBA congress in Dubai back in January.

At that time 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.

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 from becoming the man to now lead amateur boxing towards Tokyo 2020.

Speaking ahead of the election, Rakhimov claimed that “boxing and the Olympic Games are inseparable” and that “if any temporary issues arise between AIBA and the IOC, linked to the election of any AIBA official, including me, in that case we know how to solve them.”

The IOC may say otherwise, a statement from their Lausanne offices expected later today. It had also warned that it was “crucial in the best interests of boxing within the Olympic Movement that only candidates benefiting from a full clean situation can stand for the President’s position”, according to a letter seen by Inside The Games website. Konakbayev has also stated his intention to review the election process.

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 medal contender at light-heavyweight for Tokyo, the danger now being he may not even get to fight.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics