By Alan Hubbard
As a long-time boxing fan I am now seriously concerned about the sport’s future in the Olympic Games. If, indeed it has one.
The portents are not good. I believe there is now a groundswell of opinion in the International Olympic Committee (IOC), where there is a substantial anti-boxing brigade, that it is time for it to be counted out despite its impressive Olympic tradition.
Boxing is one of the original six sports created for the Ancient Olympics, along with pentathlon, running, horseback riding, chariot racing and wrestling, and has been in the modern Games since 1904.
But the ancient sport is on the ropes and fighting for its Olympic heritage, facing a possible KO from the next Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 because of concerns by over alleged continuing irregularities within the governing body.
It seems outrageous when you consider the Olympics have produced such fistic idols as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Teofilo Stevenson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Nino Benvenuti, Lazlo Papp, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, Anthony Joshua, Vasyl Lomachenko and, since the successful debut of women’s boxing, Nicola Adams/ Katie Taylor, Mary Kom and Claressa Shields.
Alas, boxing’s removal from the Olympic programme is now a real and present danger.
Some within the IOC would like to see this core sport replaced by a more “modern” or esoteric pursuit as appears to be the current trend, with wall-climbing, surfing and skateboarding among the new activities voted in for Tokyo as appealing to a more youthful element.
Other pastimes like chess, cheerleading, squash and wushu – and even esports – are also pressing their claims for future Games.
The boxing controversy began in 2016, when AIBA was plunged into a series of corruption allegations at the Rio 2016 Summer Games. It was alleged that match-fixing could have factored into several bouts. Some claimed that a network of corrupt officials decided the score on certain fights including that of Irish world bantamweight champion Michael Conlan who was scandalously judged to have been outpointed by a Russian.
Olympic boxing has always been prone to biased judging – but then so have other sports like ice skating and gymnastics where the scoring is also subjective. However what happened in Rio seemed blatant skulduggery rather that simple bias.
In October 2016, AIBA had suspended all 36 officials involved in the Rio Olympics pending an investigation. By early 2017, the special investigation committee had deemed that there had been a lack of “proper procedural norms” and several other issues that likely impacted “in-competition best practice.”
With two years remaining until Tokyo 2020, it remains unclear whether boxing will continue to be a part of the next Olympic Games
Less than n a year later, controversial president Dr Wu Ching-kuo was suspended from his role after allegations of “financial mismanagement” and widespread corruption surfaced. The 71-year-old Wu had been accused of financial negligence after accumulating 15 million Swiss francs worth of debt through questionable management practices. He was also accused of trying to remove AIBA committee members who questioned his authority.
As a result of Wu’s demise, AIBA named 67-year-old international businessman Gafur Rakhimov, as its interim president. Rakhimov, who was the longest serving vice-president within the governing body, was promoted to the position despite being linked to organised crime and named one of Uzbekistan’s “leading criminals” by the United States government, even though he has never been prosecuted for any wrongdoing.
The US Treasury department has since prohibited US-based businesses from conducting financial transactions with him.
Subsequently an IOC spokesperson revealed that the Olympic Committee was “extremely worried about the governance of AIBA” then took the decision to freeze all upcoming financial payments and contracts associated with the ruling body and hinted at the sport’s removal from the 2020 program.
“The IOC reserves the right to review the inclusion of boxing in the programs of the Youth Olympics 2018 and Tokyo 2020,” said president Thomas Bach.
With two years remaining until Tokyo 2020, it remains unclear whether boxing will continue to be a part of the next Olympic Games.
Wrestling, another original Olympic sport is also again under threat and both AIBA and International Wrestling Federation (IWF) will now have to wait until the Executive Board convention in Tokyo from November 30 to December 2 for a further update on their respective situations.
But it is boxing that is more directly in the firing line. It is all part of the aftermath brought by the enforced departure of the autocratic but effective Dr Wu who quit under fire in November after nearly 12 years as President.
He had originally unseated long-serving predecessor Anwar Chowdry on a clean-up corruption ticket.
Once a vice-president and a candidate in the last IOC Presidential election campaign, he is now relegated to the body’s back benches, leaving no heavyweight voice fighting the sport’s corner at such a critical time.
The British-educated Taiwanese construction magnate was once seen as a force for good in boxing, especially with this support for the participation of women, and a re-structured scoring system. But it now seems his legacy is turmoil.
My own view is that he further muddied the already murky waters by tinkering with tradition, including a half-baked scheme to allow professionals, of sorts, to qualify for the Olympics, the controversial removal of headguards in men’s boxing and his avowed ambition to rule the whole world of boxing, amateur and pro, under his AIBA fiefdom. That was never a starter.
And so boxing’s back-to-the-ropes fight to keep its cherished Olympic status continues.
President Bach may be acting as referee as the final round approaches but he is believed to be at best ambivalent towards boxing.
I suspect the former Olympic fencer, no great fight fan, would not demur if the noble art was finally counted out and replace by a more aesthetic pursuit. Morris Dancing maybe?