By Liam Morgan |
Throughout the past few months, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) has been calling the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) bluff.
To continue the poker analogy, AIBA has been gambling with its treasured place on the Olympic program ever since an Uzbek with alleged links to organised crime took interim charge of the governing body in January.
Warning-after-warning has been delivered by the IOC that Gafur Rakhimov’s election as AIBA President at a crunch Congress in Moscow next month puts the sport’s spot at Tokyo 2020 – and even their right to organize the boxing event – in serious jeopardy.
Be it explicit letters or stern comments from IOC President Thomas Bach, AIBA has been left in no doubt as to how perilous their situation is.
Yet still Rakhimov presses on with his campaign, denying both the allegations against him and that his now inevitable elevation to the top job at AIBA is in any way damaging to boxing’s Olympic future.
The gamble is not paying off. The IOC has largely stuck to its guns, save for offering a glimmer of hope to amateur boxers across the world that it would “do its upmost to ensure that the athletes do not have to suffer under these circumstances” and “will protect their Olympic dream.”
That promise was accompanied with another threat from the IOC – elect Rakhimov and we will remove your recognition as the governing body for Olympic boxing.
What many of us deciphered from this is that the IOC will still hold an Olympic boxing competition at Tokyo 2020, even if they have to do it without AIBA.
This is much easier said than done, however, and the IOC must now turn to how exactly this is implemented.
The more cynical among us believe steps in this direction have already been taken behind the scenes at the IOC as this is hardly an issue which has crept up the organisation, which has seen this problem coming a mile off given the continued refusal of AIBA to heed its clear demands.
Establishing a new International Federation purely to oversee and run a boxing event at the Games is one option, potentially with the cooperation of one of the numerous bodies which sanction fights in the professional game, allaying fears over where judges and other officials are selected from.
While IOC members are refusing to speculate on the who and how, the rumor mill is buzzing with suggestions that this new federation could be led by a high-profile name within the sport to add credence and to install faith in the hypothetical organisation among the athletes.
Should the IOC go down what would be an unprecedented route, they must act swiftly and decisively; with the qualification process for the Games looming on the horizon, there is no time to waste.
It might seem extreme to some but what choice do the IOC have if they want to keep their promise to hundreds of amateur boxers dreaming of competing in the Olympics?
It is also worth pointing out here that while the IOC’s involvement constitutes the type of interference in an International Federation they usually avoid – publicly at least – it seems they were simply left with no alternative.
If Rakhimov is elected as expected, we are likely to get a better indication of the next steps when the IOC Executive Board convenes, ironically, in Tokyo in early December.
An early Christmas present for the IOC would be for common sense to prevail, but Bach and the rest of the ruling body will not be holding their breath.
After all, they are dealing with an uncooperative organization and a President who can end this mess in one fell swoop by withdrawing his candidacy for President but chooses not to for reasons known only to him and a select few within the Executive Committee.
Former Irish coach Billy Walsh, who guided the country during its most successful period in the sport at the Olympics, echoed the views of many when he outlined this very point in an interview earlier this week.
“If this one guy [Rakhimov] is the problem, he should not be bigger than the sport,” Walsh told the Irish News. “If he has any love for the sport, he would make the right decision somewhere along the road.
“If they are talking about banishing boxing from the Olympic Games, he should actually put himself out of the race, for the sake of the sport and the hundreds of thousands of kids who are in clubs across the world.”
If you are one of those kids, an amateur boxer or a fan of the sport at the Olympics, the signs are not good.
Instead of listening to the IOC and taking the advice of well-respected figures in the boxing community such as Walsh, Rakhimov has in fact stepped-up his denials in recent weeks, claiming a letter sent by chief ethics and compliance officer Paquerette Girard Zappelli – which told him directly that he should not stand for President – was “unfair and insulting”.
Rakhimov, who remains on a United States Treasury Department sanctions list as “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals”, also attempted to deflect blame for the governance crisis onto the previous leadership, telling Agence-France Presse that the current election regulations were too strict.
It is an easy excuse to make and does not explain why Rakhimov and the AIBA Executive Committee failed to change these statutes in view of the impending election when they made other alterations in January.
Rakhimov also insisted he had attempted to ensure he is not the only candidate in the running for the Presidency, but this came across as the Uzbek merely paying lip-service to the interests of AIBA and the sport’s Olympic credentials.
The very election process he claims to have tried to save is among the “grave concerns” outlined by the IOC regarding AIBA’s troubled governance following Serik Konakbayev’s controversial omission from the list of Presidential candidates.
Konakbayev has launched an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport as he says his nomination forms were received the day after the September 23 deadline but as that was a Sunday, the exact cut-off should have been extended to September 24 under Swiss law.
There is a belief among the membership that he has a chance of winning his case, the desired outcome for those at AIBA who want to see the sports Olympic status retained rather than vanquished and which would allow him to challenge Rakhimov at the Congress.
If the result does not go his way, and if Rakhimov’s own legal action regarding the election process is unsuccessful, AIBA’s hopes of keeping its Olympic berth will diminish with the speed at which a boxer hits the canvas when the knockout blow is delivered.
This outcome would be devastating for both the future and present state of amateur boxing. Walsh even went as as far as saying the sport would be “all-but finished” if the IOC wields the Olympic axe for the first time since baseball and softball were cut from the Olympics after Beijing 2008.
Should the unthinkable happen for everyone involved in boxing, AIBA would only have themselves to blame; they would reaped the consequences of playing the IOC at a bluffing game they were never going to win.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.