Sport Ireland ‘very concerned’ at threat to boxing at Olympics

John Treacy believes uncertainty will affect boxers preparing for Tokyo Games

Gafur Rakhimov was elected as the  president of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) in Moscow on Saturday. The Uzbek businessman remains on a United States Treasury Department sanctions list for alleged links to international heroin trafficking. Photograph:  Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Gafur Rakhimov was elected as the president of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) in Moscow on Saturday. The Uzbek businessman remains on a United States Treasury Department sanctions list for alleged links to international heroin trafficking. Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

 

Sport Ireland has expressed concern over the increasing threat of boxing being excluded from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and called for clarification from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

It follows the election of Gafur Rakhimov as president of the International Boxing Association (AIBA), despite the IOC’s “grave concern” over his suitability to hold the position due to his alleged links to organised crime in his native Uzbekistan.

Rakhimov won a somewhat chaotic election at the AIBA congress in Moscow on Saturday, securing 86 of the 134 votes cast by national member federations, enough to seal the presidency against the sole other candidate, Kazakhstan’s Serik Konakbayev. It brings the standoff with the IOC, which has been brewing all year, to a head: the IOC first suspended AIBA funding last December, worth some $17.3 million post Rio 2016, and have made repeated calls on the need for proper reform on governance, finance, referring and anti-doping.

The Olympic qualification process is due to start early next year, but unlike most other sports, the IOC have yet to agree the details of the boxing programme for Tokyo. According to Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy that uncertainty is now reaching a critical period.

“We would be very concerned,” said Treacy. “And obviously the reaction of the IOC is hugely important, and what exactly they decide to do with boxing at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Because the uncertainty that’s being created around international boxing is already impacting on all our young boxers training at the moment with Tokyo in mind, and that’s not the right thing to be doing for any elite boxer, or any elite programme, trying to get ready for Tokyo.

Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

“What we’re also saying is there needs to be clarity on this, as soon as possible, again for the young boxers who in some cases are putting their lives on hold in the build-up to Tokyo. Because what you don’t want is the situation where a boxer who might be thinking of a medal podium position in Tokyo starts thinking ‘I’ve had enough of this amateur boxing’, and goes off and joins the professional ranks. That’s the other big danger about this.”

The IOC have offered some hope that boxing in Tokyo could still be organised on an independent basis, should the AIBA under Rakhimov 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.

Irish boxing also received €3.49 million in direct high-performance funding in the four-year cycle up to Rio 2016, well above the €2.8 million it received in the four-year cycle before London 2012. It is more funding than any other of our Olympic sports, surpassing athletics, our traditional leader.

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, 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.

“We do invest a very significant amount of funding into high-performance programmes in every Olympic cycle, especially boxing, and the uncertainty around the sport doesn’t help that going forward,” added Treacy.

“This is also a time when amateur boxing is really in need of good governance, and have the right people in place who can be trusted to drive the organisation forward. So if the IOC have concerns around this, we all need to heed that, because I don’t think they’d be putting them out there unless they were a very real concern.

“We’re also told many times that boxing is the most successful Olympic sport for Ireland, and that’s a huge factor for us as well. This is the critical period in the preparation so none of this is helpful at all.

“There is some indication from the IOC that they’re trying to find a way where the boxers will be still be in Tokyo, in some shape or form, but we don’t know yet how that would work.

“There is still the issue around judging, because that’s critical as well for the sport going forward. What happened in Rio undermined the whole sport, and there is a question as well about their anti-doping, and if that’s where it needs to be compared to other sports.”

Rakhimov’s position with AIBA is set to be top of the agenda when the IOC executive board stage their next three-day meeting in Tokyo, starting on November 30th. Despite claiming his innocence, Rakhimov remains on a United States Treasury Department sanctions list for alleged links to international heroin trafficking: the sanctions bar US companies from doing business with him, and also means he’s unlikely to get a visa to attend the Tokyo Olympics.

That didn’t appear to impact on his election, Rakhimov reportedly securing the vote of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA), although they have declined to confirm this. The three-man Irish delegation in Moscow included Fergal Carruth, the IABA CEO and brother of 1992 Olympic boxing gold medallist Michael, plus president Dominic O’Rourke and secretary Art O’Brien.

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