The International Olympic Committee has frozen planning for the boxing tournament at Tokyo 2020 and started a process that could see it completely cut ties with the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
Boxing’s governing body has been on the ropes for several years as it has struggled to answer questions about its finances, governance and refereeing standards but its relationship with the IOC reached crisis point when it elected Gafur Rakhimov as president earlier this month.
The Uzbek businessman was named interim president in January, having previously been a vice-president, but he has also been on a United States Treasury Department sanctions list since 2012 for alleged involvement with a global crime network.
Despite his repeated denials of any links to organised crime, the IOC sent several strong hints to AIBA that there would be grave consequences if it left Rakhimov in charge, including withholding the federation’s share of the funds generated by the Olympics and banning the 67-year-old from attending October’s Youth Olympic Games.
None of that prevented his election, though, so the IOC has dramatically upped the ante by setting up an “ad-hoc inquiry committee” to investigate its numerous concerns about the federation.
At a meeting in Tokyo yesterday, its executive board agreed to maintain all the sanctions it imposed in July and decided to “freeze the planning for the Olympic boxing tournament at Tokyo 2020, including official contact between AIBA and the organising committee, ticket sales, approval and implementation of a qualification system, test event planning and finalisation of the competition schedule”.
The board did lift its ban on funding for individual boxers but only if the money goes directly to the athlete and not via a national boxing federation, and it also prohibited AIBA from using any of the Olympic brands, including the rings, or any Tokyo 2020 logo.
But in a move that will reassure boxers, the IOC issued a statement that said it will “make all efforts to protect the athletes and ensure that a boxing tournament can take place at Tokyo 2020 regardless of these measures”.
Boxing has been an Olympic sport since 1904 and its been Ireland’s sport for medal prospects, with high hopes for more success in Tokyo.
The IOC investigation into AIBA will be led by Serbia’s United World Wrestling president Nenad Lalovic, who helped preserve his sport’s Olympic status when it was threatened in 2013 after years of doping scandals.
Rakhimov’s legal status in the US is clearly one of the key concerns for IOC president Thomas Bach but the Olympic boss is also understood to be deeply worried about AIBA’s financial position.
In its statement, the executive board noted a comment from auditors EY which said “uncertainty still persists about the ability of (AIBA) to continue as a going concern”.
The IOC also pointed out that AIBA’s last two annual financial reports are not available on its website and said it “understands” the boxing federation is “unable to maintain or open a bank account in Switzerland” where it is based.
On a more positive note, the IOC acknowledged that AIBA’s anti-doping programme was now “fully compliant” and there were no causes for concern with the refereeing and judging at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
The distance between the two organisations remains alarming, though.
In a statement on Thursday, Rakhimov said: “The fear of going bankrupt due to past financial mismanagement is now far behind us. 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, the many positive statements from our members are also a very strong motivation personally.”