Concerns heighten for future of Olympic boxing

Ireland's Katie Taylor runs with an Irish flag and her London Olympic gold medal after her final fight with Russia's Sofya Ochigava in the South Arena 2 in the Excel Arena, London. on Thursday August 9 2012. Picture by Julien Behal/PA Wire
Bernard O'Neill

THE world's amateur boxers are being outrageously expected to invest months of blood, sweat and tears preparing for Olympic qualifiers that may not happen for an Olympiad they may be banned from competing in.

That's the bottom line from yesterday's International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board's decision to kick the can down the road in their ongoing stand-off with International Boxing Association (AIBA).

The IOC has frozen boxing's participation at Tokyo 2020, and the qualification process that goes with it, pending an investigation, which could run until next June, into AIBA governance, financial management and sporting integrity.

Meeting in Tokyo this weekend, the IOC re-iterated their vow to work to protect the sport's Olympic status, but the threat to remove boxing from the Olympic movement remains.

London 2012 silver medallist John Joe Nevin believes that amateur boxing would have no purpose without the Olympics.

“There would be no point in being an amateur without the biggest prize (Olympics).

“Boxing has always been part of the Olympics. It would be devastating and very sad if we lose our Olympic status," he said yesterday.

The main reason that boxing finds itself up against the ropes is because of Gafur Rakhimov's election as AIBA President in Moscow last month.

The IOC Ethics Committee asked Rakhimov, who has been linked to organised crime, not to run for the AIBA Presidency, but the Uzbek, who has denied any criminality, ran for office and was elected by a wide margin.

The Irish Athletic Boxing Association voted for Rakhimov's sole challenger, Kazakhstan's Serik Konakbayev, in Moscow.

It appears that the IOC, with the world's boxers watching anxious, is applying enough pressure in the hope that Rakhimov will throw in the towel.

Sport Ireland (SI) said yesterday that they will continue to monitor developments and work with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association: “to prepare Ireland's boxers to the highest standards in the hope that a resolution is found to the current situation."

"Sport Ireland is deeply concerned, but not surprised, by the IOC announcement made today, '' SI chief executive John Treacy added.

"The IOC have been clear on their position on this matter for a considerable time.

"When Gafur Rakhimov was elected as the President earlier this month, AIBA and the international boxing community would have been acutely aware of the IOC's warning that the election of Mr Rakhimov as President would jeopardise boxing's place on the programme for Tokyo 2020.

"The current situation creates great uncertainty for the outstanding athletes within Ireland's boxing high performance programme.

"There had already been significant worry amongst the sporting community that the qualification pathway for Tokyo had not been announced."

Former Irish head coach Billy Walsh, now chief seconds with the USA, said if boxing's future as an Olympic sport is under threat because of one individual (Rakhimov) that he should consider his position.

“If it comes to a situation where boxing is going to be put out of the Olympics Games because of one man. If he loves boxing he should take a sidestep and allow the sport to continue,” he said.

The main Olympic qualifiers will be at the World Men's and Women's Championships in Sochi and Siberia in Russia next September and October.

Dublin lightweight Kellie Harrington, who claimed AIBA World Elite gold in New Delhi last weekend, will likely be seeded No.1 in Siberia.

But whether that tournament will be a Tokyo 2020 qualifier or not remains to be seen. The AIBA released a statement on Thursday saying that they had restored “healthy finances to the delight of its members."

But Lausanne-based governing body for amateur boxing doesn't even have a bank account in Switzerland as Banque Cantonale Vaudoise closed their account because of the “reputational damage of being associated with AIBA.”

The bank also demanded that AIBA hand back the keys to their safety deposit box.

The keys to the Olympic dreams of a generation of young boxers, meantime, are in the hands of the IOC and Rakhimov.

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