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‘Extreme concern’ for the future of boxing in the Olympic Games

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How loud does the alarm bell for Olympic boxing need to sound, asks John Dennen

COULD the alarm bell sound any louder? It became unavoidably clear at the last Olympic Games that the administration of the sport needed wholesale change. Not only did the standards of officiating and drug testing need to be addressed but the governance of AIBA, the world governing body, was a severe problem. It remains so, and yet AIBA seems hell bent on lurching towards disaster and dragging Olympic boxing with it.

Once again the International Olympic Committee has had to publicly declare that boxing is still at risk of being expelled from the Olympic Games as soon as 2020.

Ching Kuo Wu has been ousted as AIBA president. But there was widespread concern when Gafur Rakhimov was made interim president. Rakhimov has been sanctioned by the US Treasury department no less. He is running for election to continue as president and AIBA has now revealed that he will stand unopposed. It seems inevitable therefore that he will become president at the AIBA Congress on November 2-3 in Moscow, Russia. Rival candidate Serik Konakbayev, whom England Boxing was backing, appears to have failed to attract enough support in time for the September 23 deadline to run in the election. (It’s understood though that Konakbayev will attempt to appeal this.)

The executive board of the International Olympic Committee made clear 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”.

Their statement continued: “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.”

The imminent risk of boxing being thrown out of the Olympics is very real. This would be devastating. Not only is it the pinnacle of amateur boxing and part of the sport’s rich history, it underpins professional boxing that, in many ways, is thriving today. The lucrative sport is undergoing a boom in Britain for instance where so many of the professional stars are Olympic medallists, or Olympians, or enjoyed the support of national Olympic programmes.

Even now it is outrageous that those boxers who committed themselves to the Olympic sport after Rio 2016 have this doubt cast over their careers and their futures. It’s bad enough that two years on the men’s weight divisions for Tokyo 2020 are yet to be confirmed, while the qualification process has not even been announced.

The hope has to be that the IOC won’t punish the boxers. The executive board did add in their statement: “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.”

Perhaps that indicates that if the IOC refused to recognise AIBA some new alternative body could run boxing at the Olympic Games. But there are no further details on what such an organisation might be.

There has been no sign that the internal strife at AIBA will abate. Their executive committee has decided to ban former president Wu and former executive director Ho Kim for life due to “gross negligence and financial mismanagement”. That will be presented to the Congress in November to ratify. In another vote AIBA executive committee member Franco Falcinelli was suspended. The current AIBA executive director Tom Virgets said, “Now it is up to the national federations to make the final decision, but the Executive Committee needed to act now, especially as this situation has threatened to influence the upcoming election for AIBA leadership positions. The Executive Committee simply felt that enough was enough in terms of misinformation and deceit in a time where everybody in AIBA should be working together for the best of boxing.”

While these disputes rage, the sport as a whole is plunged ever deeper into crisis. We all need worry about what’s best for boxing.

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