Monday 17 December 2018

Sean McGoldrick: 'Irish Olympic hopefuls left in limbo as boxing row rumbles on'

 

World Champion Kellie Harrington may be robbed of the chance of competing at the next Olympics
World Champion Kellie Harrington may be robbed of the chance of competing at the next Olympics

Sean McGoldrick

Within an hour of being crowned world champion in New Delhi last weekend, Kellie Harrington was already focusing on her next challenge - repeating the feat at the Tokyo Olympics.

Now her dream is in danger of disappearing into the quicksand of international sports politics. A bitter dispute between the International Olympic Committee and the AIBA, the world governing body for amateur boxing, could result in boxing being dropped from the 2020 Games.

Axing boxing would have an devastating impact in Ireland as it has been the country's most successful Olympic sport with 15 boxers winning 16 medals since John McNally won the first in Helsinki in 1952.

The decision by the executive board of the IOC to suspend planning for the boxing tournament at the Tokyo Games wasn't surprising. They had repeatedly warned AIBA that if they elected controversial businessman Gafar Rakhimov as their permanent president there would be consequences.

The IOC has taken a decision to kick the can down the road for seven months. But come next summer they can no longer fudge the issue as the qualification process for the Games has to start by then.

In the meantime, they have ramped up the pressure on the beleaguered AIBA by setting up an inquiry into their affairs.

The committee will deliver a report to a meeting of the executive board in Lausanne next June. A final decision on boxing's future will be taken by all the members of the IOC.

Down through the decades there has always been a whiff of corruption surrounding judging and refereeing in boxing at the Olympic Games.

Ireland's Fred Tiedt was infamously denied a gold medal at the Melbourne Games in 1956. More recently, boxing came close to being dropped following the Seoul Games in 1988 after a farcical decision robbed future Hall of Fame inductee Roy Jones of a gold medal even though he was named Boxer of the Tournament.

This latest showdown has its origins in the Rio Olympics where Ireland's then reigning world champion Michael Conlan was the victim of a woeful judging decision.

This time the issues run much deeper, though it was the election of Rakhimov which turned the showdown into a full-blown crisis.

Described by the United States Treasury Department as "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals", Rakhimov has been involved in the higher echelons of AIBA for more than two decades despite his alleged links with organised crime. He has been vice-president since 1988 but was barred from entering Australia for the Sydney Games in 2000.

Warnings

Despite repeated warnings from the IOC, AIBA went ahead and elected him. Furthermore, they rejected his own offer to step aside for the duration of the Olympics, though its unlikely this compromise would have been accepted by the IOC.

It is unlikely that Rakhimov will resign, so this high stakes game of poker-politics is likely to play out to an end game. The most probable outcome of next June's meeting is that the IOC will suspend AIBA but retain boxing in the Games and set up a new organisation to run the tournament.

The World Boxing Association - one of the four governing bodies in professional boxing - has expressed an interest in undertaking this project. But such a move is fraught with legal difficulties and would almost certainly be challenged in the courts by AIBA.

Meanwhile, the boxers can only keep training and hope for a positive outcome which right now is by no means certain.

Irish Independent

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