High on the agenda this week was the disclosure of the program for boxing qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Games, with the formal suspension of the International Boxing Association (known as “AIBA”) to be confirmed next week by the full IOC Session.
The Executive Board ratified the new qualification program for Tokyo, with a few modifications to make boxing in Tokyo more compliant with the IOC’s view of the world than AIBA’s:
● The weight classes will remain at eight for men and five for women as previously approved, but the 286-athlete quota will get closer to even between men and women, with 186 men and 100 women in the tournament (250 vs. 36 in Rio 2016).
● Tokyo qualification will be decided at five tournaments held between January and May of 2020. Four continental qualifiers will be held for Africa, the Americas, Asia (with Oceania), and Europe, plus a World Qualification tournament to fill the remaining places, to be held in May.
● The IOC appointed an interesting Boxing Task Force to assist International Gymnastics Federation President Morinari Watanabe (JPN) with the oversight of the qualifying process and the Olympic tournament, including IOC members William Blick (UGA) and Willi Kaltschmitt Lujan (GUA), IOC Athletes Commission member Aya Mahmoud Medancy (EGY) and Marius Vizer (FRA), head of the International Judo Federation).
The competition information and process are no surprise; what they do not include are any results from the 2019 World Championships, scheduled to be held in Russia in September (men) and October (women).
Further, the naming of a group that includes two International Federation presidents to oversee not only the qualifying, but the Tokyo tournament itself is remarkable. Wonder what the gymnastics and judo folks think about having the head of their federation responsible for another sport?
And the stunner was the naming of Vizer, who ripped Bach and the IOC back in 2015 at the SportAccord Conference, saying that the IOC was in charge of an institution that was “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.” Vizer predicted that the IOC could be “headed for destruction” if the International Federations were restricted from organizing their own events, even if they competed in some way with the IOC’s own programs. But here he is on the panel, helping the IOC run the boxing tournament in 2020, in place of one of the federations who listened to his 2015 speech.
The IOC also noted in its statement that “In order to ensure the delivery of qualification events and the boxing tournament at Tokyo 2020, a boxing technical group will also assist on an administrative level to help guide the decision-making of the Task Force, while no professional boxing leagues or members of the former leadership of AIBA will be represented in the Task Force.”
This is important because it ends any idea that the professional boxing federations such as the World Boxing Association or World Boxing Council or others will be involved. If the IOC objected to AIBA, it was hard to imagine that it would approve of any of these organizations. And it didn’t.
Left out to dry in all of this, of course, is AIBA, still $16 million in debt, although there have been reports of continuing interest from the Secretary General of the Russian Boxing Federation paying this off (and possibly running for the presidency himself).
However, the AIBA Secretary General, American Tom Virgets, told reporters that if the IOC Session confirms AIBA’s suspension – as expected – next week, the federation is facing bankruptcy. The Associated Press reported that Virgets wrote in a letter to the AIBA Executive Committee that “In my opinion, the decisions made by the IOC were clearly designed to bankrupt AIBA” and that “Every source of income that AIBA had going forward was taken away.”
The AP story also noted that “He says AIBA has less than $400,000 in the bank, is releasing all but three staff, and cannot afford to challenge the IOC at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.” Virgets himself will resign as well.
While the IOC is only suspending AIBA, left open the possibility that it could be reinstated after the 2020 Games, it appears that the action will kill the federation off entirely. That raises the question of what happens to boxing going forward:
● Will the Russian federation respect its agreement to stage the men’s and women’s Worlds in Yekaterinburg and Ulan Ude later this year?
● Who maintains the rules and sanctioning responsibilities that AIBA has been responsible for?
● What about the organization of international boxing events after the Tokyo Games are over?
While AIBA appears to be going away, the 203 national boxing federations around the world are not. They may wish to reorganize a new International Federation and apply to the IOC to take over where AIBA left off. They have to do something.
What is the IOC’s responsibility in all this?
This question is important, not specifically because of boxing, but because the “federation takeover” business is spreading. On Wednesday, the scandal-hit Confederation of African Football (CAF) agreed to essentially a takeover by FIFA, with FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura (SEN) becoming “FIFA High Commissioner for Africa.”
CAF President Ahmad Ahmad (MAD), already being investigated by FIFA for corruption (among other things) was detained and questioned by the French police of the Central Office for the Fight against Corruption and Financial and Fiscal Crimes on Thursday.
All of this comes against the background of the African Cup of Nations kicking off on Friday night in Egypt!
That competence and integrity are being more strictly required of sports governing bodies is a good thing. The IOC and FIFA didn’t start these messes, but they may find that they may have to be the ones to clean them up, not just for now, but for the long-term.