No Boxing at the 2020 Olympics?

The sport of boxing is in jeopardy of being expelled from the 2020 Olympiad in Tokyo.

Yesterday (Feb. 3) International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said this drastic action would be taken if AIBA, amateur boxing’s governing body, did not get its house in order. “The IOC reserves the right to review the inclusion of boxing at the Youth Olympics in 2018 and Tokyo 2020,” said Bach, speaking to a group of reporters in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the site of the forthcoming winter games.

AIBA, headquartered in Switzerland, has been riddled with in-fighting. Last year, the executive committee “provisionally suspended” president Ching-Kuo Wu (aka C.K. Wu) who subsequently resigned, deflecting a formal impeachment. Interim president Franco Falcinelli stepped down last week, dictating the appointment of a new interim president. The nod went to Gafur Rahimov of Uzbekistan.

Following last year’s competition in Rio, AIBA took the unprecedented step of suspending all 36 referees and judges until an investigation was completed into alleged corruption. Previously, an unidentified number of ringside officials were sent home while the games were in progress.

Head-scratching calls by referees and judges have been a constant thorn in the side of Olympic boxing. At the Rio games last year, Irish boxer Michael Conlan (pictured on the right), speaking into a ringside microphone following his controversial loss to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin said, “amateur boxing stinks from the core to the top.” Conlan raised his middle finger as he was leaving the ring, creating what was arguably the most indelible photo to emerge from the Rio games. IOC president Bach, needless to say, wasn’t pleased.

Former president Wu, a Taiwanese architect, assumed the presidency of AIBA in 2006. During his tenure, AIBA initiated several changes that Wu pushed for, the most controversial of which were measures that subverted the amateur ideal by blurring the distinction between amateur and pro. AIBA franchised national teams on five continents under the rubric of the World Series of Boxing. Participants were paid to compete in pro-style matches without headgear for money without losing their Olympic eligibility. The Olympics were subsequently opened to all professional boxers.

Wu’s master plan, said Argentine journalist and TSS contributor Diego Morilla, was to unite all of boxing, amateur and pro, into one single worldwide institution, presumably with him at the head. Whether significant reforms can be made under the current interim president Gafur Rahimov remains to be seen. In 2000, Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald alleged that Rahimov was an underworld figure with ties to some of Central Asia’s most notorious drug traffickers. The U.S. Treasury department has taken steps to freeze any assets he may hold in the United States.

The mess calls to mind Jimmy Cannon’s famous line that boxing is the red light district of sports.

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