Thursday 17 October 2019

Seán McGoldrick: 'Olympic boxing plan mired in chaos with Tokyo on horizon'

'There are uncanny parallels between what has happened in boxing and the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK - with assurances that everything would work out if the voters opted to leave. We all know how well that plan has gone' (stock photo)
'There are uncanny parallels between what has happened in boxing and the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK - with assurances that everything would work out if the voters opted to leave. We all know how well that plan has gone' (stock photo)

Seán McGoldrick

The first punch in the Tokyo Olympics boxing programme is due to be thrown in the Ryógoku Sumo Hall on July 25, 2020. But little else is definite about one of the Olympic's anchor sports, which has been thrown into confusion in the wake of last week's announcement by the International Olympic Committee that the International Boxing Association (AIBA) would not play any role in organising the tournament.

So 14 months out from the first bell, nobody knows how or where the qualifying process will take place; the number of categories - including the actual weights - or even the split between men's and women's events.

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Granted, the IOC had little option but to suspend the AIBA, whose implosion has been gathering pace since the judging controversies at the Rio Olympics. But the IOC has left themselves precious little time to put an alternative structure in place.

Imagine if Sport Ireland suspended the GAA but insisted they would still organise the All-Ireland football championship at six months' notice. Eyebrows would be raised at the feasibility of such a plan. Arguably what the IOC is planning is actually more demanding because the credibility of boxing is so dependent on the quality and fairness of the judging.

All this matters in Ireland because boxing, despite the meltdown in Rio, is the country's most successful sport. Since John McNally became the first Irish boxer to win an Olympic medal in 1952 Irish fighters have secured a total of 16 medals. Next best is athletics with five. And Joe Ward and Kellie Harrington are in pole position to add to boxing's haul by securing medals in Tokyo.

There are uncanny parallels between what has happened in boxing and the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK - with assurances that everything would work out if the voters opted to leave. We all know how well that plan has gone.

The AIBA has yet to react to the IOC decision. Maybe it has finally dawned on them that they are the authors of their own downfall. The inexplicable decision to elect Gafur Rakhimov as president, even though he was named on a US Treasury Department sanctions lists as "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals", forced the IOC's hand.

The 30-page report which an IOC sub-committee compiled on the AIBA is a damning indictment of its behaviour stretching all the way back to the Athens Olympics in 2004.

But even though the AIBA face bankruptcy - the IOC's estimate is that by 2021 debts will exceed €25m - the suspension may still be challenged in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It would be more worrying, if the AIBA took the nuclear option and threatened to bar member countries who co-operate with the IOC from competitions such as the prestigious world championships.

Even if the AIBA accepts its fate, the IOC will face a logistical nightmare in organising worldwide Olympic qualifying tournaments, probably between January and May of next year. The early omens are not promising, even though the IOC has set up a special task force to oversee the delivery of the boxing tournament at next year's Olympics.

Twenty-four hours after his appointment as chairman of the taskforce, International Gymnastics Federation president Morinari Watanabe said he did not "quite understand the situation" surrounding boxing and was "totally unprepared" for the job. IOC President Tomas Bach hinted that one of the professional boxing organisations could be involved in running the sport, which is hardly very reassuring either.

And all of this is happening at a time when the boxers who dreamed for years about competing at the Olympics should be solely focussed on their preparations. But right now they don't even know if their weight division will be included in the programme.

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