By Alan Hubbard
I have great foreboding about the Olympic boxing tournament in Tokyo next year. The decision by the International Olympic Committee not to allow the sport’s governing body, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) anywhere near the official tournaments a recipe for a shambles. I feel it will all end in jeers as well as tears.
I hold no particular brief for AIBA whose recent stewardship of the sport has been at best highly questionable. But not all who sail with them are crooks or charlatans. Indeed there is no absolute proof that any of them are, including the former president Gafur Rakhimov, whose detractors chiefly the United States Treasury Department, claim he has links with organised crime, although no evidence has been forthcoming.
What’s more, there are equally, or even more dodgy characters in other international sports bodies cosying up to IOC president Thomas Bach right now so why single out boxing? Is it to appease those snowflakes in Lausanne who would like to see a popular core sport of the Games which has given us such Olympic legends as Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Lennox Lewis replaced by pole dancing, cheerleading or some other such exotic, left field pursuit?
I will tell you this. Should the IOC ever attempt to disqualify boxing there would be such an outcry from the US TV networks and other principal sponsors that it would feel like a jaw-shattering right-hander from Deontay Wilder.
In the body of AIBA there are a number of genuine boxing people who really know the ropes. Yet it seems the IOC are intent on sending in an independent team to organise a new tournament among whom there are certain to be those who do not know a left hook from a coat hook.
The IOC Executive Board have decided to suspend AIBA as the Olympic governing body for the sport and established a taskforce to oversee boxing at the Games following a six-month inquiry.
They have now appointed International Gymnastics Federation President Morinari Watanabe to chair the taskforce, which will also be responsible for devising a qualification system.
Watanabe admitted he was “unprepared” for the role and revealed he had been chosen to lead the body only a day before the Executive Board announced its decision.
Now I have no idea if the honourable Japanese gentleman has ever pulled on a pair of boxing gloves, but what I do know is that gymnastics as a sport is as far removed from boxing as Bach is from boogie – and I am
referring the composer, not the IOC overlord whose attitude towards the noble art is known to be ambivalent.
Mr Watanabe may know all about the intricacies of the parallel bars and pommel horse but does he understand the nuances of the world of black eyes and bloody noses in the hardest game of all?
If this really is the criteria the IOC are setting to prepare for an Olympic boxing tournament then will somebody please ring the bell.
Apparently they are also set to call upon the input of the professional boxing bodies, notably the World Boxing Association (WBA) whose credentials have been championed by no less pugilistic personage than the former Olympic and multi-belted and multi-lingual world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. He would be an asset as an adviser but embracing the WBA would only antagonise the other governing authorities.
Surely what the IOC should do is allow AIBA to put an Olympic programme together under the supervision of someone who knows ‘amateur’ boxing inside-out. Someone like Terry Edwards, the highly successful Team GB national coach and performance director who has been working as a technical adviser to AIBA on a global basis.
Amateur boxing is no longer called as such these days so why are the IOC prepared to let amateurs from outside the sport run it?
Many in boxing I know are tearing their hair out over how comparatively little time has been left to select and prepare and boxers for qualifying events because of this internecine squabble which the IOC have ummed and ahhed for far too long.
Uncertainty remains for boxers as exact weight categories for the men’s and women’s events have not yet been confirmed. His is unfair on the people the IOC are supposedly there to nurture and protect, the competitors.
There will be a reduction in men’s categories from 10 at Rio 2016 to eight at Tokyo 2020, which will allow for the rise from three women’s divisions to five.
AIBA has been given hope that it can regain its recognition after Tokyo 2020, with its progress due to be assessed by an IOC Monitoring Committee consisting of the members who led the initial inquiry. That does not seem to bode too well.
The IOC seem to practice double standards. Not only do members of their Club rub shoulders with unsavoury despots from several nations but when that flaky old judge from Senegal who was in charge of world athletics was exposed, did the IOC threaten to pull the sport out of the Games, or suggest it should be run by an alternative governing body? Did they hell. Similarly with cycling and football, whose doping and financial scandals
respectively are now nestling undisturbed under the carpet lining the floors of the chateau on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Boxing is taking it on the chin but I foresee a few damaging counter-punches coming the IOC’s way.
They should be prepared to duck when a hastily cobbled together Olympic tournament suggests whoever is running it couldn’t organise a punch-up in a brewery.