Is Olympic Boxing Close To The End?
By Ben Blackwell
Firstly, hello one and all to my debut post under the FightPost banner. Some may be aware of myself as a writer with one of my favourite topics is the dealings within the amateur code of the sport of boxing.
Amateur boxing to many is only seen once every four years at the highly prestigious Olympic games. The games have seen some of the world’s greatest fighters flourish from Olympic glory into professional stardom. The names of Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Anthony Joshua, Cassius Clay, Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Jr to name a few ring synonymous to boxing fans the world over.
Amateur boxing’s holy grail is Olympic stardom and a prestigious medal of any colour sets a great platform to any medallist wanting to hit the ground running into the professional ranks. British names alone include the likes of Anthony Joshua, James DeGale, Luke Campbell and most notably Amir Khan have achieved medal success which opened the way to the professional ranks with ease with lucrative deals promotionally.
Not only that, the female code of the sport has flourished in recent years with the inclusion of women’s boxing. The Katie Taylor’s, Claressa Shields, Marshall”s have all benefited from the inclusion and gone onto great success in the pro’s. Why is that? Being allowed to flourish at the most watched sporting event in the world every four years.
So you may ask, what is the issue? Well those are plentiful sadly.
AIBA has had a long period since the last Olympic Games with issues with its governance. The organisation has seen former president CK Wu, rack up huge debts against the organisation to the tune of $50 million U.S through various “investments” from firms mainly Benkons which are based in Azerbaijan and a Chinese investment firm which supported the now defunct marketing arm of the organisation. The debts incurred by AIBA triggered fears of the organisation’s stability and it’s future.
These debts saw the creation and rise of the now infamous “Interim Management Committee” (IMC) which was headed up by Gabriel Falcinelli. The IMC took charge of AIBA effectively in August of last year with the backing of the national federations of AIBA until a new leader could be elected at the organisation’s Congress at the end of 2017. That man was then elected on an interim basis until his formal induction as president came on the 2nd of November. That man was Uzbekistan’s Gafur Rakhimov.
All fine and dandy now ? Far from it.
Rakhimov is a figure who harbours controversy to put it mildly. A figure who has been within the AIBA “Family” for a substantial amount of time, who first appeared globally to many for his expulsion from the Sydney 2000 and London 2012 games for claims of corruption in attempting to fix bouts at the prestigious games. That although horrific and shocking to many, is only the tip of the iceberg.
The US state department has been a very eager bystander in all of this and are a very keen party with Mr Rakhimov over the years, who have placed a number of sanctions on Rakhimov which are only placed on political dictators, drug barons for the 70’s and 80’s and overall enemies or threats of the United States. This includes the Two key Brothers’ Circle, an Euro-Asian criminal gang of which Rakhimov, according to the U.S Treasury Department was involved in the distribution of Narcotics as a key figurehead of drug distribution within central Asia. Sanctions include frozen financial assets,bonds and stocks within the U.S along with a no-travel ban to the United States amongst other sanctions.
Why does this threaten Olympic boxing you may ask. Well, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been extremely concerned with AIBA for many a year as a whole, however, the governance issues have forced the IOC to act.
The governance issue’s of AIBA fall after the IOC’s concerns regarding judging of contests which saw all judges and officials stood down after the Rio 2016 games. The IOC had previously expressed concerns in regards to AIBA’s anti-doping policies of which the IOC claimed to be insufficient in it’s reporting of AIBA following the 2016 games. The appointment and election of Rakhimov was supposed to be a new chapter for amateur boxing, the IOC see things differently.
The IOC since AIBA’s financial turmoil had previously suspended the funding of AIBA through IOC funds allocated for Adult and Junior Olympic qualification events of which include World and Continental tournaments. The IOC on the 30th of November took even more drastic steps of ordering a full inquiry of AIBA and its suitability as an IOC member. The IOC published it,s concerns regarding AIBA and are as follows. (Published openly via the IOC Executive Board)
In a comprehensive report in 2018, auditors EY stated: “Uncertainty still persists about the ability of the organisation to continue as a going concern.”
The 2018 EY audit report also stated: “We have not been able to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence to provide a basis of an audit opinion.”
Audit reports for the financial statements of 2017 and 2018 are omitted from AIBA’s website.
The IOC understands AIBA is unable to maintain or open a bank account in Switzerland, where its headquarters are based.
Governance and Ethics
Gafur Rakhimov’s designation as a key member and associate of a transnational organised criminal network by the US Treasury Department creates uncertainty about his role as President of AIBA.
So what’s next?
During this enquiry which is set to be heard in Lausanne in June of 2019, AIBA cannot be in contact with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organisation team, sell tickets, freeze all contracts between AIBA and the IOC along with boxing not being included in the 2019 test event scheduled for Tokyo.
One option for the IOC to save boxing from expulsion from 2020 of which IOC sporting director Kit McConnell has admitted to is the IOC to run boxing qualification itself.
“At the end of the day our goal is still to run an Olympic boxing tournament in Tokyo and protect athletes in that regard,” McConnell said. “All efforts will be made to protect the athletes and make sure a boxing tournament can take place in Tokyo 2020 regardless of these moves.” (via the AP)
This leaves boxing’s future hanging in the balance and ultimately within the hands of Thomas Bach and his executive committee. The next few months will play out with intrigue, not that is affecting AIBA president Rakhimov seemingly who is brushing off the inquiry like it’s a seemingly all a misunderstanding. (via AIBA)
“I would like to thank the IOC Executive Board for their comprehensive work and assure them that AIBA is committed to improving in any area where they have concerns. Throughout this entire process, AIBA has remained committed to the Olympic Movement and the Olympic values.
In terms of my own situation, I can assure the IOC that the situation with US authorities based on false allegations by the previous regime of my country is being addressed and that my legal team is working hard to correct this.
Furthermore, in terms of the concern with regards to AIBA’s financial situation, I must admit that I too was worried about our finances at the beginning of this year. However, I can assure our Olympic friends that after making significant cuts to our spending, securing new sponsors, securing trusted host cities for our major events and negotiating with our past partners, I am very proud to say that AIBA has achieved financial stability. I look forward to sharing all that information with my colleague Mr Lalovic and his committee and to address these areas and any further questions that they might have so that we can get back to full-scale preparations for Tokyo 2020.”
Seemingly there remains a future for boxing at the Olympics but has AIBA’s conduct broke the straw which broke the camels back? Or has the IOC simply had enough with the political circus of AIBA and boxing as a whole? I fear that sadly may be the case.