Olympic Boxing Fix?

An ‘explosive’ BBC Newsnight investigation screened last night is set to ‘rock’ the world of boxing, just as the 2012 AIBA World Championships are due to commence in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The ‘Newsnight’ investigation claims it ‘ has uncovered evidence of secret payments of millions of dollars from Azerbaijan to international boxing organisation World Series Boxing (WSB)’ .

This is not the first time that boxing has been hit by corruption claims, nor will it be the last,but for the sport such allegations could not have come at a worse time for the AIBA, WSB and/or indeed
the International Olympic Committee.

Not only is it the eve of the World Championships but the allegations revolve around a ‘guarantee’ of 2 gold medals for Azerbaijan boxers at the London Olympics in return for a $9m(£5.9m) investment in the WSB series.

According to BBC sources the amateur sport’s controlling body, the AIBA, admits an Azeri national paid $9m (£5.9m) to AIBA’s associated professional organisation, the W.S.B but strongly deny any deal to fix the awarding of Gold medals to the Azerbaijan fighters. The AIBA’s Lawyers informed the BBC that any such allegation was “preposterous and utterly untrue”.

AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu, repeated that the claims were “totally untrue and ludicrous”, adding that “WSB is conducted in a totally transparent way”.

He added that the AIBA had a zero tolerance policy on corruption and said that he would conduct an immediate investigation into the allegations and would take immediate appropriate action once his enquiries were completed.

The Newsnight story relies heavily on sources described as ‘insiders’ – the whistle blowers say a senior WSB officer , Ivan Khodabaksh,the Chief Operating officer of the AIBA’s World Series Boxing (WSB) told them that the gold medals had been promised as part of a secret deal done to secure funding from Azerbaijan in return for manipulation of the Olympic Boxing Tournament
One such ‘insider’ told Newsnight: “Ivan boasted to a few of us that there was no need to worry about World Series Boxing having the coin to pay its bills. As long as the Azeris got their medals, WSB would have the cash.”

Another said that Mr Khodabakhsh came in and said: “We are safe now – Azerbaijan came in – we have to give them medals for that.”

“He was talking about gold medals in London in return for millions of dollars of secret payments,” the insider added. “Medals are being sold so blatantly it’s amazing.”

Mr Khodabakhsh told Newsnight that such claims were “an absolute lie”: “I deny that I have offered anyone two gold medals or have any understanding that anybody else has offered two gold medals to Azerbaijan,” he added.

AIBA had always maintained that the money for WSB America came from a private Swiss company, but according to the BBC , documents obtained by Newsnight show communications between Mr Khodabakhsh, AIBA executive director Ho Kim and Azerbaijan’s Minister for Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov about an investment agreement for a $10m loan.

Newsnight had interviewed Mr Khodabakhsh early in September in Switzerland, where WSB have offices, and asked him about the source of the money.

“The money for WSB America came from an investment company here based in Switzerland,” he said then.

Lawyers for the AIBA and WSB, have now confirmed that although the money was paid through a Swiss company it actually came from Azerbaijan. But they deny that it was from the government there.

They say that the government minister, Mr Kamaladdin Heydarov, introduced a private Azerbaijani investor to WSB and that the minister and his assistant acted as the interface between the two since the investor did not speak good English.

Sporting events promoter Barry Hearn, who has been heavily involved in the promotion of boxing in the UK for many years looked at the economics of WSB series boxing in 2009 and was of the opinion then – as now –
that it could not make money .

He told Newsnight he was surprised that any investor would think that it offered the opportunity for high returns:

“If an investor comes into this scheme with $10m I can only think he’s arrived from another planet”.

AIBA President Dr Wu told Newsnight that his organisation had spent the last four years “cleaning the house of boxing” and that any corruption or manipulation within the sport was not tolerated. Later
the AIBA and WSB sent this more detailed response to Newsnight:

“”In 2010, an agreement was signed between WSB SA, a Swiss incorporated company which runs the World Series of Boxing competition under the auspices of the AIBA, and a Swiss investment company for a loan in respect of the operation of WSB’s American franchises.

“The Swiss investment company facilitated the making of the loan, which originated from an Azerbaijani investor. The loan was not “secret” and nor was there anything improper about it. It was an arms length transaction between two entities made on a commercial basis and
with a view to a commercial return for the investor. While that investor prefers not to be named, as is their right under the terms of the agreement, AIBA/WSB can confirm that they are a private investor
and are not the Azerbaijani Government (whether the Ministry of Emergency or any other arm of the government) and that none of the funds were derived from Azerbaijani Government,

“Any suggestion that the loan was made in return for promises of gold medals at the 2012 Olympics is preposterous and utterly untrue. AIBA/WSB believe that such allegations have been made by individuals with an axe to grind, who are totally discredited. As well as unjustifiably imputing corruption to AIBA/WSB , they demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the procedures which lead to the award of Olympic boxing medals and the impossibility of influencing these.”

At Olympic Games boxing, different judges,from many countries , are involved in most fights, randomly selected by computer so it is difficult to see how a boxer could win an Olympic title, usually involving, four or five fights on corrupt judges decisions alone .

Undoubtedly a highly biased referee though could issue “warnings” to fighters thus losing them two points,per warning. If that happened though in favour of a fighter of any nationality in several fights it would soon be noticed by the world’s media as well as by other nations coaches,boxers and the colossal worldwide TV audience.

And so we move onto the 2011 World Championships (an Olympic qualifying event) in Baku where no doubt the media spotlight will now centre on the boxers of Azerbaijan, a country which has never had an Olympic champion, though the former Soviet state has won four bronze
medals during the last three Games.

Interesting days and months ahead as this story is guaranteed to ‘run’ and ‘run’ long term. The I.O.C may very well have to take charge of or at least become actively involved in the investigation if it drags on and on as inevitably more and more will ask “Is it really possible to
buy an Olympic Gold medal?”


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