Boxing’s Olympics future under threat following probe into Rio
The International Olympic Committee now has the perfect excuse to dump boxing from the Olympics.
The publication yesterday of the first of a three-volume report into allegations of refereeing corruption at the Rio Olympics in 2016 is a damning indictment of how the sport was run by its governing body AIBA.
The dam burst in Brazil, when the public outcry over the decision in the Michael Conlan fight caused such a furore that the stink couldn’t be ignored any longer.
The Belfast fighter was the reigning world and European champion at the time and his expletive-laden rant on live television after his loss forced the then President of AIBA, CK Wu, to act.
He sacked the panel of seven ‘super judges’ and reassigned tournament executive director Karim Bouzidi. The irony of his actions is laid bare in the report by Professor Richard McLaren.
“AIBA’s then President CK Wu bears ultimate responsibility for the failure of officiating at Rio and the qualifying events.”
Furthermore, he “avoided discussion of what he apparently knew was inappropriate conduct in his reports to the International Olympic Committee.”
McLaren added: “Bouts were manipulated for money, perceived benefit of AIBA or to thank National Federations and their Olympic committees and, on occasions, hosts of competitions for their financial support and political backing.
“Boxing has a problem, it’s not about the rules and processes. It’s a people problem. For too long people have worked outside the rules.”
What happened in Rio is still reverberating in the sport and was one of the reasons AIBA lost the right to organise the boxing tournament at the Tokyo Games this summer.
So, what does the future hold for AIBA and, more particularly, boxing at the Olympics? In a terse comment on the 152-page report, the IOC said they would ‘carefully study’ it before deciding on the consequences.
AIBA, of course, will claim they have changed — after all, it was their new President Umar Kremlev from Russia who commissioned the McLaren report.
But the biggest irony is that two Russian boxers benefited from the manipulated judging decisions in Rio: Vladimir Nikitin went home with a bronze medal after getting the decision against Conlan and heavyweight Evgency Tishenko was given the verdict in the gold medal match against Kazakhstan’s Vassily Levit.
While the report says at least nine Rio bouts were suspicious, these two caused the system to ‘publicly collapse.’
It will be interesting to see whether next year’s reports explore connections between the two Russian fighters, who were from the Belgorod district of Russia as was the then vice-President of the Russian Boxing Federation.
The International Olympic Committee detests self-inflicted bad publicity. In Rio, IOC President Thomas Bach pulled out of the medal presentation for the heavyweight bout after the verdict was loudly booed by the spectators.
Boxing has been part of every Summer Olympics since its introduction in 1904, except for the 1912 Games in Stockholm because the sport was banned in Sweden at the time.
The IOC appointed a special Task Force to organise the tournament in Tokyo. While there were controversial decisions, there was no hint of corruption.
The five judges were filmed when sitting around the ring during contests, which eliminated the practise of officials signalling to each other how to score a contest which was widespread in Rio.
It would be a tragedy not just for boxing in Ireland but for sport in general if boxing was dropped from the Olympic programme. Since John McNally won Ireland’s first Olympic boxing medal at the Helsinki Games in 1952, Irish fighters have brought home 18 medals — a figure no other sport is ever likely to match.
Regardless of how much the AIBA claim they can reform their systems, the corruption is so systemic that it will be virtually impossible to eliminate. The chances of them being allowed organise the tournament in Paris in 2024 is remote.
A bigger concern is that the IOC will decide boxing is more trouble than it’s worth. Now armed with proof of just how corrupt is has been, they finally have justifiable cause to deliver the ultimate knockout blow to the sport.