Boxing has been Ireland’s most successful sport – in terms of medals won – in recent Olympic Games but there now is a real risk that the one time ‘Amateur’ sport could be banished from future Olympiads, arguably as early as Tokyo 2020.
Up to now Ireland has claimed sixteen medals including the Golds of Michael Carruth and Katie Taylor and hopes are high of adding to that total in Tokyo with several young male and female prospects improving year on year.
Those of us lucky enough to be present at London 2012 will certainly remember the Gold medal performance of Katie Taylor in the 60kg Lightweight class and the gallant John Joe Nevin who claimed silver not forgetting the bronze medals secured by Belfast’s Mick Conlan and Paddy Barnes.
Yet future boxers may not get an opportunity to even compete in an Olympic Games if the current “standoff” between IOC and AIBA is not resolved very soon.
These range from disputes over refereeing and judging in Rio, the recent appointment of Uzbekistan’s Gafur Rakhimov as Interim President which has particularly concerned the IOC and serious concerns about the financial standing of the AIBA after recent major financial disasters were revealed that occurred under the stewardship of the previous President of the AIBA, Taiwanese C.K.Wu.
The AIBA had undertaken to make the original changes requested by the IOC but when they produced their ‘interim’ report the IOC were NOT impressed and have now ordered a more detailed investigation and report by the end of April. Meantime no funding is in place from the IOC despite boxing being in the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in October and with Olympic qualifiers for Tokyo due in 2019.
On Feb 4th, the AIBA reported that:
“Today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board decided to maintain the financial suspension of AIBA and demanded a new report on AIBA governance by April 30th.
This decision was made despite AIBA’s fulfilment of the IOC’s request to submit a Progress Report outlining all steps AIBA was asked to take and continues to take to improve its governance.
The decision is extremely disappointing for AIBA as it hoped the IOC Executive Board would have understood that the processes necessary to implement even more measures require more time and that the positive steps already taken in recent times are evidence of AIBA’s strong efforts and willingness to reform.
Over the next six months AIBA will be in the process of a complete organisational review, which will lead to the ‘New Foundation Plan’ for AIBA. This plan and the recommendations produced will be discussed during the AIBA Executive Committee meeting in July and an update will be provided to the IOC in the requested April 30th report.
In the meantime, AIBA will continue its efforts to convince the IOC of its determination to not repeat any of the past mistakes and its commitment to a fresh, positive future centred on good governance and sound management”
It is though not going to be easy for the AIBA to convince the IOC that they really do mean to ‘clean up’ the sport after the damage done during the final years of former President Wu’s reign, the state of the AIBA finances and future concerns. Even more worrying for the AIBA is the IOC President’s comments during a press conference at the conclusion of two days Executive Board meetings in Pyeongchang prior to the opening of the Winter Olympics.
IOC President Bach said:
“We are extremely worried about the governance in AIBA. We received a report from the IOC Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer and from the IOC Sports Director (Kit McConnell) which followed the decision that we already took last December to withhold any future financial contributions to AIBA and required some reports about their actions ” he went on.
The German also re-emphasised that last year’s decision to reduce boxing quota places in addition to the removal of two male weights is “final”. Former AIBA President CK Wu had been a great campaigner for more women’s weights after the success of London 2012.
The two male weights ‘lost’ would be replaced by two women’s weights but that decision met with significant disapproval and opposition from within the predominantly male AIBA Executive.
At the recent AIBA Extraordinary Congress in Dubai, then Interim President Franco Falcinelli had indicated that they would fight this proposal and planned to lobby the IOC accordingly. Clearly Thomas Bach was not amused.
The IOC’s strategic objective around gender equality calls for growing female participation at the Olympic Games to 50 per cent. This significant, yet achievable, increase will build upon recent advances in gender parity at the Olympic Games. For example, in London in 2012, there was a 44 per cent female participation rate. Further expanding female participation, the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 boasted the highest-ever number of women competitors, with female athletes comprising 45 per cent of total participants.
Another major ‘bone of contention’ was the poor performance of Referees and Judges seven of whom were expelled from Rio though some were reinstated soon thereafter. Among those ‘weird’ decisions was the award of a Unanimous Points Decision’ in favour of Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin over Mick Conlan despite the latter having appeared to dominate proceedings.
“We at the time received reports from a committee established by AIBA which was dismissing these concerns,” Bach said.
“But from the fact that refereeing is part of the decision we already took in December last year, we were requesting more info and you can conclude that we are still looking into this issue.
“We want to have satisfying explanation that the results presented to us does reflect the reality.”
One of the United Kingdom’s most experienced and respected boxing writers, Alan Hubbard fears for the very existence of boxing in the Olympics . Hubbard is a highly respected sports columnist for the ‘Independent on Sunday’ and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.
Writing this week in “Inside the Games” he says : “Sadly boxing, one of the original Games sports, is now on the ropes and fighting for its Olympic life.
It comes after a series of upheavals within the International Boxing Association (AIBA), the body which governs Olympic and all other forms of what used to be known as amateur boxing.
Boxing is one of the original six sports created for the Ancient Olympics, along with pentathlon, running, horseback riding, chariot racing and wrestling, and has been in the modern Games since 1904.
But now it faces a possible KO from the next Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 because of concerns by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over alleged irregularities within the governing body.
This follows the appointment of Gafur Rakhimov, a Uzbek allegedly linked to organised crime, as Interim President of AIBA.
Specific concerns raised by the IOC include “issues surrounding the new Interim President”, the lack of “clarity” around finances, the failure of an approved project to reform the referees system and the absence of a “robust anti-doping programme”.
Hubbard concludes: “AIBA must deliver a report to the IOC by the end of April but I understand there is a groundswell within the Olympic body to ditch boxing despite its impressive Olympic tradition.
Consequently, removal from the Olympic programme is now a real and present danger.
Some within the IOC would like to see this core sport replaced by a more “modern” or esoteric pursuit as appears to be the current trend, with wall-climbing, surfing and skateboarding among the new activities voted in for Tokyo as appealing to a more youthful element.
Another irony is that a few years back it was mooted that boxing, along with other indoor sports such as basketball, volleyball, wrestling and judo, should be moved from a Summer to a Winter Olympics slot to create wider television interest in the Winter Games.
Now, apparently, it could be counted out in the cold, anyway.”
Several boxing scribes and fans of the sport seem convinced that there is no real danger of the IOC carrying out its threat but I am convinced (many other too) that they do really mean business UNLESS the AIBA follows ALL of their requirements and they are many and in a very short period of grace. I suspect that the latest they will accept their requirements being met is November and then only if they have been ‘guaranteed’ in that April report that their recommendations are being pushed through the AIBA internal channels.
National Federations will be expected to “toe the party line or else!
Numbers of athletes in the Games are also scheduled to be reduced and that would fit in nicely for the I.O.C if the AIBA’s 286 fighters were removed. On the other hand boxing is predominantly an indoor sport and there is no reason why it could not be moved from the Summer Games to the Winter Games together with such as basketball, wrestling, volleyball and judo.
That has been suggested before as Alan Hubbard said, but not implemented – so therein may lie an opportunity for boxing to survive any cull but let it be clear that boxing will remain ONLY if the IOC’s “instructions” are carried out to the letter . If they are not but boxing survives then the AIBA may lose its right to be the International Federation for the sport as the WBC are ‘waiting in the wings’
Fascinating months ahead – but worrying ones – if you are a boxing fan.