LANE ONE: Boxing elects “organized crime” leader Rakhimov as president; now what?

AIBA elected Gafur Rakhimov (UZB) as its new president

Elections of international federation presidents aren’t usually too exciting except for those in the sport. There are exceptions, of course, and one of those came on Saturday in Moscow (RUS), when the International Boxing Federation (AIBA) met to elect its new leader.

The result may end boxing’s participation in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. How is this possible?

The AIBA has been in turmoil for more than a year, after the forced resignation of C.K. Wu (TPE), who was president from 2006 until November of 2017. Within the federation, he was accused of financial mismanagement and placing the continued future of the organization in doubt because of excessive debt.

Wu had been a highly-respected member of the International Olympic Committee since 1988 before ascending to the AIBA presidency, and he continues to serve today. But he has nothing to do with AIBA any more, and the IOC, looking at the AIBA mess, suspended any further payments of television rights monies to the federation in December of 2017.

Said IOC chief Thomas Bach (GER), “There is the governance issue, there is the fact that financial statements have not been made fully transparent, there are still questions open with regard to judging, refereeing and anti-doping and therefore we have asked AIBA for a full report by the end of January.” The wretched judging at the Rio Games in 2016 was deemed so bad that Wu “removed” all 36 of the Rio judges in January 2017 from further assignments pending a review.

The AIBA made its report to the IOC, but the suspension of payments continued. AIBA then held an Extraordinary Congress in Dubai (UAE) and elected Vice President Gafur Rakhimov (UZB) as Interim President. This changed everything.

While Rakhimov had been associated with the AIBA since 1995, his selection as AIBA President brought an unwelcome focus on his background. In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department identified him as “one of the leaders of Uzbek organized crime with a specialty in the organized production of drugs in the countries of Central Asia. He has operated major international drug syndicates involving the trafficking of heroin.”

The Treasury has not backed down from this position, although Rakhimov has protested that he is innocent of any such charge. In December 2017, the Treasury issued a notice specifying that Rakhimov has “has collaborated with Thieves-in-Law [Russian crime ring] on business, as well as assisted Thieves-in-Law by providing warning of law enforcement issues, arranging meetings, and addressing other problems. Rakhimov has been described as having moved from extortion and car theft to becoming one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals and an important person involved in the heroin trade.”

Now he’s the elected head of AIBA, winning Saturday’s vote over Asian Boxing Confederation head and 1980 boxing silver medalist Serik Konakbayev (KAZ) by an 86-48 vote.

In October, the IOC issued an unusually harsh statement noting that “the IOC reiterates its clear position that if the governance issues are not properly addressed to the satisfaction of the IOC at the forthcoming AIBA Congress, the existence of boxing on the Olympic programme and even the recognition of AIBA as an International Federation recognised by the IOC are under threat.”

If this were to pass, AIBA would be near death as an organization. Its financial statement for 30 June 2018, posted at the AIBA Congress this past weekend, showed that the IOC’s contribution of about CHF 4.3 million a year had made up about 65% of its revenue in 2017-18 and more than 78% of its revenue for 2016-17 (The exchange rate between the Swiss franc and U.S. dollar is about 1:1.)

Even with the IOC’s cash, AIBA posted a loss of CHF 1.79 million in 2017-2018 and CHF 7.2 million in 2016-17. The AIBA balance sheet shows CHF 3.9 million in assets and CHF 22.9 million in liabilities, so it’s much more than broke.

At the same time, the IOC’s statement on 3 October had a strange final paragraph:

“At the same time, we would like to reassure the athletes that the IOC will – as it has always done in such situations and is currently doing at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 – do its upmost to ensure that the athletes do not have to suffer under these circumstances and that we will protect their Olympic dream.”

What does that mean?

It’s worth noting that boxing was fully a part of the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, but the AIBA was not. There were AIBA-certified judges at the matches, but no AIBA executives, officials or staff were allowed to be accredited, or to have access to any part of the tournament (although they were in the building). The PriceWaterhouseCoopers audit firm was present to compile a report on the judging process, for presentation to the IOC.

The next IOC Executive Board meeting comes on 30 November, and the AIBA situation will be high on the agenda. Rakhimov offered an “olive branch” to the IOC and said “We are committed to continue improving in any area you feel we should improve.” Judging by the IOC’s comments, it may keep boxing in the Games and keep AIBA out. It can afford to do so, and other federations with similarly thin finances should consider themselves warned.

Rich Perelman