By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
The last couple of years have been turbulent times for amateur boxing with scandals and squabbles completely overshadowing any action that has taken place in the ring. Expulsion from the Tokyo Olympics is now a real possibility as the sport is now at a critical tipping point and arguably the most defining phase in its illustrious history. Before we get into the wide ranging ramifications here is a brief timeline of events that have lead us to this point for those who haven’t kept up to date or have simply got lost with the goings on.
The boxing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio was marred by controversial judging decisions with all 36 officials and referees suspended for alleged bout-fixing and it was clear changes needed to be made. After much wrangling and bitter infighting long time AIBA president CK Wu was forced out last November due to allegations of financial mismanagement within the organisation. Gafur Rakhimov, described by the US Treasury as “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals” was installed as interim president in January. Rakhimov as strenuously denied the claims but by now the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were showing concern.
An important report from AIBA regarding governance and reforms were submitted in April but IOC president Thomas Bach stated in May
“This report shows some progress and goodwill but still lacks execution and substance in some areas,”
“Therefore we retain our right to exclude boxing from Tokyo 2020.”
Further controversial judging verdicts blighted this year’s Asian Games in Jakarta with a couple of team officials escorted out of the arena with AIBA promising to reintroduce an appeals process. The crisis dramatically deepened at the beginning of October as Gafur Rakhimov was announced as the only presidential candidate at the AIBA congress in Moscow on November 2 and 3 with Serik Konakbayev supposedly not receiving enough support from the federations and not submitting this support within the stated deadline. Konakbayev, the head of the Asian Boxing Confederation (ASBC) has launched an appeal to the court of Arbitration for Sport claiming that his candidacy should be allowed to stand under Swiss law as the Sep 23 deadline was a Sunday therefore not a working day. The outcome of the CAS appeal should be known on October 30 and in the meantime Konakbayev has been allowed to continue campaigning. The IOC have made it abundantly clear that if Rakhimov is elected that boxing’s future at the Tokyo games is in real jeopardy. Rakhimov had stood firm but has softened his stance in recent times and has said he would step aside if necessary.
In a startling release on October 3, the IOC Executive Board stated
“The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) today expressed its ongoing extreme concern with the grave situation within the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and its current governance.” “These include the circumstances of the establishment of the election list and the misleading communication within the AIBA membership regarding the IOC’s position.
“Such behaviour is affecting not just the reputation of AIBA and boxing but of sport in general. “Therefore, the IOC reiterates its clear position that if the governance issues are not properly addressed to the satisfaction of the IOC at the forthcoming AIBA congress, the existence of boxing on the Olympic programme and even the recognition of AIBA as an international federation recognised by the IOC are under threat.
“At the same time, we would like to reassure the athletes that the IOC will – as it has always done in such situations and is currently doing at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 – do its upmost to ensure that the athletes do not suffer under these circumstances and that we will protect their Olympic dream.
Pretty damming words and anyone who had underestimated the seriousness of the situation should now be left in no doubt. Whilst the last part of the statement referring to the athletes not suffering and Olympic dreams being kept alive is well meaning but if AIBA were to be expelled then organising the various continental championships, World Series of Boxing which has Olympic places and the other qualifiers would be an unwanted headache for the IOC and seems pretty farfetched. Rumours have swirled of a professional body being put in charge of this process if necessary but of course nothing official has been confirmed.
The funding or at least part of it, for most federations around the world hinges on Olympic participation so if the worst were to happen and boxing is kicked off the Tokyo roster then the very grassroots of the sport will be directly affected and future generations could be lost to other sports. Every 4 years the Olympics acts as a shop window, not only for amateur boxing itself with worldwide coverage available but the boxers themselves who first have dreams of reaching the podium but then afterwards securing a big professional contract. Winning an Olympic medal isn’t the be all and end all as showing some charisma or a style that maybe more suited to the professional ranks can be enough to seal a lucrative deal with Michael Conlan, Errol Spence and Oscar Valdez being 3 good examples of this in recent times.
Without Olympic boxing fighters will be turning pro at a financial disadvantage and displaying their skills on such a major platform also gives them a taster of possible future big nights in the professional arena. Of course turning professional isn’t an option for everyone with Cuba being the obvious example with fighters having to defect from the country which is often a harrowing process.
From an Asian prospective we’ve seen numerous Uzbek and Kazak pugilists transition over to the professional side of the sport in recent months but make no mistake about it, their success is completely down to the heavy investment in the amateur programme that has made both countries the powerhouses in amateur boxing along with Cuba. Given the deep love and passion Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan could probably soak up a lost Olympics but a drain in talent to the pros would surely be inevitable at least in the near future.
Fighters from the Philippines and Thailand often benefit from more financial stability by staying amateur as pro boxing in both nations can be a lottery at times. The reputation of amateur boxing in Japan has taken a battering in 2018 with president of the JABF Akira Yamane forced to resign due to allegations of misappropriation of funds to boxers and gang ties. If the once in a lifetime opportunity to campaign in a home Olympics were to be snatched away then the public’s view of the sport would only further sour and all at a time when the land of the rising sun is producing elite young talent by the truck load.
Mongolia, which time and time again punches above its weight for such a small nation would almost certainly lose all its top stars and would need time to try and rebuild. Arguably the most affected member of the continent would be India, whilst making huge strides in the last 2 years at all levels, with no pro scene to speak of it would be an uncertain future for the many gifted boxers and the potential growth in one of the 2 most populated nations on earth could severely regress.
Finally the biggest impact of no Olympic boxing in Tokyo would be on women’s boxing at all levels. Despite making solid progress over the last several years the biggest issue in women’s professional boxing is a lack of depth at another 2 or 3 Olympic cycles is the integral ingredient for remedying this. It’s highly unlikely that Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams would have been signed to professional contracts without their performances at London and Rio respectively and the Olympics is an essential gateway to attempt to inspire young girls to take up the sport and without it women’s boxing could go back decades.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features