The executive board of the International Olympic Committee on Friday gave the controversy-hit sport of boxing a Tokyo Games lifeline, announcing an inquiry into the sport’s federation and keeping alive its hopes of inclusion in 2020.
The International Boxing Association will have its finances, governance and ethical standards looked at, the IOC said, with the executive board to possibly give a recommendation on whether the sport should be contested in 2020 to the IOC session in June 2019 — the final deadline for such a decision.
The move is an «initiation of a procedure which can lead to the withdrawal of recognition of AIBA,» an IOC statement read, using the acronym of the association’s official name. «The (executive board) acknowledged AIBA’s progress…but several points of significant concern remain, in particular in areas of governance, ethics and financial management.»
The IOC executive board did, however, hand down a number of restrictions on the sport’s governing body while the inquiry goes on, including a freeze on planning for the 2020 boxing tournament, stopping any contact between AIBA and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, and halting ticket sales for 2020.
The boxing federation will also not be permitted to seek approval and move forward with the implementation of a 2020 Games qualification system, test event planning or to finalize the competition schedule.
«We are 18 months out from the games, there are elements around the venue planning, around the sporting equipment, the transport system, these kinds of things. We will work very closely with Tokyo to make sure the organizing committee is not unduly impacted by this decision,» said Kit McConnell, the IOC’s sport director, at a hotel in central Tokyo.
The new president of the Japan Amateur Boxing Federation, Sadanobu Uchida, blasted the IOC’s action.
«Making a decision on this in June is too late,» Uchida said. «Because many things must be prepared, the only thing we can do is assume it will be part of the Tokyo Olympics and move ahead with our plans. AIBA has no choice but to clean up its act.»
The decision was made after the first day of the IOC executive board meeting in Tokyo and comes in the wake of refereeing and judging controversies at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the election as AIBA president on Nov. 4 of Gafur Rahimov, a Russian national who has been accused of being «one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals» by the U.S. Treasury Department.
AIBA has also had deep financial difficulties that saw its previous head, Taiwan’s Wu Ching-Kuo, resign amid allegations around his management of the federation’s finances.
The announcement of an inquiry comes despite Rahimov on Thursday making a statement via AIBA saying the federation is clear of its financial troubles.
«The fear of going bankrupt due to past financial mismanagement is now far behind us,» said Rahimov. «It is time to turn the page and look further to the development of boxing worldwide.»
«After having spent a lot of time and energy in closing deals and bringing the AIBA finances under control, these many positive statements from our members are also a very strong motivation personally,» Rahimov’s statement read.
But Rahimov’s assurances were apparently not enough to guarantee the sport a place in 2020. Boxing has only once before been omitted from an Olympic Games.
«Our position is that we don’t go off the statements of a press release, we go off the information that has been provided to us in the official reports from AIBA,» said McConnell.
«We have a range of information including progress reports from AIBA that has been considered by the IOC executive board in detail over the last couple of weeks. So, it was that information that was fully considered and reflected in the statements made.»
Rahimov was in December 2017 accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of having links to the so-called «Thieves-in-Law,» a group it describes as a «Eurasian Transnational Criminal Organization.»
The Treasury Department said Rahimov has provided «material support to the Thieves-in-Law» while collaborating on business, as well as assisting them by providing warning of law enforcement issues, arranging meetings, and addressing other problems, according to a press release on its website.
At the Rio 2016 Games, Uzbekistan and Cuba saw the most boxing success, with each nation winning three boxing gold medals each, but the competition was plagued by controversy that led to a number of referees and judges being removed.
The decision to bar the officials from participating further in the games in Brazil came after AIBA reviewed the officiating of bouts and decided that some decisions were questionable.
On Thursday, AIBA published a statement saying its new post-Rio refereeing and judging system has been «positively received by athletes and technical officials alike» after being implemented at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires and at the women’s world championships.
The problems for boxing are not limited to the international federation, however.
In Japan, the national federation has seen its own controversy with the August resignation of JABF President Akira Yamane following multiple allegations of misconduct, including pressuring referees to fix matches and the misuse of grant money.
On Nov. 20, the Japanese Olympic Committee decided to withhold grant money slated for the JABF due to the numerous scandals.
Boxing made its debut at the Olympic Games in 1904 in St. Louis and has been contested at every edition of the games apart from Stockholm 1912, when it was omitted because the sport was forbidden under Swedish law. Women’s boxing was added to the Olympic program in London in 2012.
All — Kyodo News+