On its present course, boxing really could be thrown out of the Olympic Games
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 He has been replaced by an interim president, Gafur Rakhimov.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