Olympic boxing fighting for survival as controversy engulfs the sport
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Olympic boxing fighting for survival as controversy engulfs the sport

Even by boxing's lofty standards, it's a fine mess. Beset by allegations of corruption and links to organised crime, the sport finds itself in danger of exclusion for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic program, or if it does feature, will be taken over like a company that has sunk into administration.

Unable to effectively govern itself, boxing may feature in Tokyo under the banner of the International Olympic Committee, not the wretched mess that is the International Boxing Federation (AIBA), currently being overseen by its acting president, Gafur Rakhimov.

Pinnacle: Jeff Horn, fighting Tunesia's Abderrazak Houya in the London Olympics, says it would be a disaster for amateur boxers to be deprived of the Olympic experience.

Pinnacle: Jeff Horn, fighting Tunesia's Abderrazak Houya in the London Olympics, says it would be a disaster for amateur boxers to be deprived of the Olympic experience.Credit:Reuters

What it means to Australia's young boxing aspirants remains to be seen, although Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates, who heads the 2020 Coordination Commission, told Fairfax Media that the Olympics would never abandon the sport, which has featured at every Games since 1904. There was one exception in 1912, when the sport was banned in Sweden and left out of Stockholm.

Controversy is nothing new to boxing, at both the amateur and professional ranks. The professional side of the sport often thrives on a tinge of madness while the amateur body, which has produced many of the sport's icons, has never been a stranger to contention.

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Yet it had never reached a point at which the sport was deemed so dysfunctional that it was in danger of being struck off the Olympic program, or have the IOC step in and run it themselves. Coates can't remember a situation like it ever before.

For 11 years, AIBA was run by Chinese official Wu Ching-kuo, who also made a run for IOC president in 2013. In 2017, he was forced to step down amid allegations of gross financial mismanagement that amounted to more than $20m.

Rakhimov is alleged to have links to a global heroin network. He insists it's all a misunderstanding.

Now, there is Rakhimov as an interim president and the only man currently nominated for the elections in early November, although there is a challenge before the Court of Arbitration for Sport from challenger Serik Konakbayev to ensure he too can stand. He missed the nomination deadline by one day.

The main issue with Rakhimov is that he is listed by the US Treasury Department as one of the leading criminals in Uzbekistan and alleged to have links to a global heroin network. He insists it's all a misunderstanding.

"There have been governance concerns, judging or refereeing concerns, for a long time," Coates said. "But the particular one at the moment is that the president, he’s the only candidate for their forthcoming elections. He doesn’t pass muster with the IOC ethics commissions. Nor did he at the time of the Sydney Olympics."

Rakhimov was one of just two international officials that were banned by the Australian Government in 2000. He was refused a visa for the recent Youth Olympic Games in Argentina, while the IOC has effectively frozen its working relationship with AIBA.

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"Normally, your Olympic accreditation acts as a visa. But the government stepped in and said no. I can remember us taking this up with the government, then when they told us of his background, we dropped off very quickly.

"With Rakhimov, he was not allowed to go to the recent Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. Basically, the IOC brought in Price Waterhouse to oversee the refereeing and the technical aspects.

"We’ll get a report from there. But the clock is ticking. And if the sport can’t satisfy the IOC as to its governance – I’m not on the executive board but it goes to more than who the President is – then there is the potential for boxing to be taken off the program for Tokyo."

That would be an extreme measure but it's not as if boxing hasn't had warning shots fired in the past. As recently as Rio, six judges were sent home amid a string of incomprehensible decisions. Later, all 36 officials involved in the Games were stood down while investigations took place.

Jeff Horn, the former WBO welterweight champion who fights Anthony Mundine in late November, said it would be a disaster for amateur boxers to be deprived of the Olympic experience. He was a quarter-finalist in London 2012 and Australia's best performing boxer at those Games.

Fuming: Ireland's Michael Conlan, a contentious loser, became the poster boy as controversy plagued the Rio boxing ring.

Fuming: Ireland's Michael Conlan, a contentious loser, became the poster boy as controversy plagued the Rio boxing ring.Credit:AP

"It means the world to be an Olympian. It’s the biggest stage in the world. It was a fantastic place to be. It’s the pinnacle," Horn said.

"Amateur boxing is your set-up... it’s like doing your degree before you start your professional career. You need to have the skills to have success in the pro game. It’s very hard to go to the next level when they have fought at somewhere like an Olympic Games."

Simply assuming control of an entire sport would be a difficult and likely costly venture for the IOC but Coates assured potential Tokyo contenders that there work in the gym would not be for nothing.

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Local officials from Boxing Australia that report to AIBA, like BA president and current AIBA vice-president Ted Tanner, would not be caught up in any fall-out should the body fall short of the standards demanded by the IOC Ethics Commision.

"The IOC would never prejudice the opportunity for all those kids out there training. It is a very important, traditional sport," Coates said.

"What would happen would be similar to a company that is in administration. We would bring in people to run the event and we’d still use the referees... they would be supervised. The IOC would step in and run that tournament.

"I’ve never known it before. But to all the boxers, the IOC will stand by you. We would run the team – there is no question mark over Australian boxing – but we would run the team. From our side, we’d be dealing with an administration installed by the IOC.

"Ted [Tanner] has an impeccable reputation, I assure you. He’s a fine man and has been worried about this for a long time."