On its present course, box­ing re­ally could be thrown out of the Olympic Games

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Dis­as­ter lurks ahead of Olympic box­ing

I IHEY were warned. Two years ago Michael Con­lan was the iconic im­age of the 2016 Olympic Games as he held two fin­gers up at the judges af­ter they, wrongly, handed a points de­ci­sion to Vladimir Nik­itin, deny­ing Con­lan an Olympic medal.

As the world was watch­ing, Con­lan tore off his vest, launched into an epic tirade and marched out of Olympic box­ing for good. (The fine AIBA, the gov­ern­ing body for Olympic box­ing, lev­elled at him for his be­hav­iour re­mains un­paid.) The Belfast man would sign with ma­jor pro­moter Top Rank and make his pro de­but at Madi­son Square Gar­den, with a celebrity like Conor Mc­gre­gor at his side. He has head­lined at the SSE Arena in his home­town and on Satur­day (Oc­to­ber 20) boxed in Las Ve­gas for the first time, halt­ing Ni­cola Cipol­letta at the Park The­ater. In short, two years on from that de­ci­sion and his no­to­ri­ous out­burst, Con­lan is do­ing just fine.

Two years on AIBA, to put it mildly, is not do­ing well. So badly in fact that not only has the or­gan­i­sa­tion plunged it­self into chaos, it’s threat­en­ing to tear out the foun­da­tions of the sport. AIBA had a ter­ri­ble 2016 Olympic Games. They might not even get a 2020 Olympics.

It was abun­dantly clear two years ago that AIBA had ma­jor prob­lems. The de­ci­sion that went against Con­lan was one of the most high pro­file at the 2016 Games but it was by no means the only one or even the most egre­gious. As many of us said, AIBA had to change.

In­stead, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has slumped to new depths, be­yond the judg­ing con­tro­ver­sies. A bit­ter civil war within AIBA over its dire fi­nan­cial po­si­tion saw then-pres­i­dent Ching-kuo Wu ousted. He has been re­placed by an in­terim pres­i­dent, Ga­fur Rakhi­mov. This is deeply prob­lem­atic. Rakhi­mov has been sanc­tioned by the US Trea­sury depart­ment who de­scribe him as “one of Uzbek­istan’s lead­ing crim­i­nals”. He de­nies the al­le­ga­tions and points out he has never been charged or con­victed of any crime. Nev­er­the­less Rakhi­mov has per­sisted in his cam­paign to be­come AIBA pres­i­dent. Af­ter po­ten­tial challenger Serik Kon­akbayev failed to at­tract the re­quired sup­port in time to get on the elec­tion bal­lot, now Rakhi­mov stands to be elected AIBA pres­i­dent un­op­posed at their Congress on Novem­ber 3. Time and again the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (the IOC) have raised the alarm over the gover­nance of AIBA. Par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to the up­com­ing elec­tion, they’ve pub­licly de­clared their “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.” ‘Ex­treme con­cern’ should be high­lighted and tre­ble-un­der­lined. Just to make it even more clear, yet again the IOC have em­pha­sised that if AIBA con­tinue along this course the con­se­quences will be dis­as­trous. The IOC are quite pre­pared to ex­pel box­ing from the Olympic Games. This is not an idle threat. This is a clear and present dan­ger.

This sit­u­a­tion is mov­ing be­yond cri­sis into melt­down. Los­ing its Olympic sta­tus would be dis­as­trous for box­ing. The stars of the fu­ture are made at the Games. In Bri­tain es­pe­cially, the richly funded na­tional pro­grammes that pro­duce medal-win­ners have also been ideal prepa­ra­tion for these box­ers to go on to achieve tremen­dous pro­fes­sional suc­cess. De­stroy­ing Olympic box­ing isn’t just bad for AIBA, it’s bad for ev­ery­one in this busi­ness.

“It’s com­pletely dead,” Con­lan said in Rio. “If you watch this Olympic Games and you’ve seen some of the de­ci­sions, Olympic box­ing is dead.” Those words of warn­ing are two years old but now sound prophetic. Back then ev­ery­one should have lis­tened, closely. Yet again AIBA needs to make a pro­found change. This time, though, they are tee­ter­ing on the brink of catas­tro­phe. Now, how­ever, there is scarcely any time left to turn back, be­fore AIBA plunges over the edge and drags the sport along with it.

Matt Christie will be back next week.


END OF A DREAM: They should have lis­tened to Con­lan[right] af­ter a grim night in Rio


Cover photography

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