Integrity Clearly at Issue Within the IOC and the AIBA



The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Boxing Association (AIBA) have significant integrity problems. The IOC is the guardian of the Olympic Games and the leader of the Olympic Movement. Arguably, it is the heart of world sport, supporting every Olympic Movement stakeholder, promoting Olympism worldwide, and overseeing the regular celebration of the Olympic Games. One of its specific guiding principles is to “strengthen the integrity of sport and supporting clean athletes.”


In turn, the AIBA is supposedly committed to strengthening the integrity of boxing and protecting clean athletes. The stated mission of AIBA “is to promote, support and govern the sport of boxing worldwide in accordance with the requirements and spirit of the Olympic Charter”. Its work should include the fight against doping and any other form of cheating in the sport and the strengthening of ethics with improvements in transparency, good governance and accountability.


However, following a recently released investigative report on fixed boxing matches at the Rio 2016 Olympics, it is apparent that the IOC and especially the AIBA have much work to be done with respect to the integrity of outcomes. A report issued by investigator Richard McLaren generally finds a culture of fear, intimidation and obedience among judges and referees. McLaren reported that boxing bouts for medals at the 2016 Olympics were fixed by complicit and compliant referees and judges. McLaren, who was appointed by the AIBA, also found that AIBA officials selected referees and judges specifically to ensure that bouts could be manipulated in Olympic qualifying for the Rio Games. Further, he also found signs that the 2012 Olympic Games in London were similarly affected.


According to investigator McLaren, “Key personnel decided that the rules did not apply to them.” Apparently, a final figure on how many fights could have been affected was not determined by McLaren. He did identify “in the vicinity of 11, perhaps less, and that’s counting the ones that we know were manipulated problem bouts, or suspicious bouts, including fights for medals.” Curiously, McLaren did not identify any particular fight that was certainly fixed.


McLaren’s report adds further: “This informal structure (referees’ and judges’ assignments as a rubber stamp) allowed complicit and compliant judges and referees to be assigned to specific bouts to ensure the desired results of those matches. McLaren found that referees and judges at the Rio Games were told who should win during the morning before a day of fights, and a lounge area was used to “protect[ed] from prying eyes.” Unfortunately, McLaren reports that he was unable to determine who was ultimately responsible for the bout-fixing scheme including the selection of winners. However, many of the involved referees and judges received suspensions.


Though McLaren did not specifically offer a verdict on any particular fight at the 2016 Olympics, there was a spotlight at the Games on a contentious fight between a fighter from Ireland and another from Russia. After the judge awarded the bout to the Russian, the losing fighter accused Russia and the AIBA of corruption. Again, McLaren’s report did not specifically conclude this fight was actually fixed.


McLaren found allegations of corruption included the 2012 London Olympics as well. In one instance, then AIBA president, C.K. Wu, allegedly instructed the Association’s executive director to ensure that Turkish fighters qualified for the London Games because their country hosted an expensive qualifying competition. In another instance, Wu allegedly urged AIBA officials that Azerbaijan should not win gold medals in boxing at the Games, citing a BBC documentary suggesting that Azerbaijan’s medal hopes might benefit from a recent loan to the AIBA from an Azerbaijani company.


For most of the past year, AIBA has been led by a Russian businessman, Umar Kremlev, who has been head of the Russian Boxing Federation since 2017. Curiously, Kremlev is completing the term of the former president, Gafur Rakhimov, who American authorities allege is involved with international heroin trafficking. Rakhimov has denied wrongdoing. At any rate, Kremlev says “AIBA has reformed how bouts are judged (and presumably how referees and judges are assigned) since 2016.”


Interestingly, Wu stepped down as a member of the IOC last year, and resigned as the AIBA chief in 2017 reportedly after the group’s executive committee overwhelmingly approved a no-confidence motion against him for allegedly mismanaging the organization’s finances.


Nevertheless, Kremlev has stated that “AIBA hired Professor McLaren because we have nothing to hide.” It is noteworthy that after being suspended by the AIBA, none of the referees or judges from the 2016 Games received assignments for this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. This year’s Olympic tournaments were organized by the IOC and not by the AIBA, which was suspended from involvement by the IOC in 2019. The IOC has further stated, upon learning of complaints about refereeing and judging at two major AIBA events this year, the Asian Championships and world youth championships, that it has “deepest concerns.”


Reportedly, McLaren’s investigation continues as it will now broaden to examine more recent tournaments including those this year, and whether there was corruption within the AIBA going back decades.


Clearly there is much work to be done by the AIBA. Together, it and the IOC must assure that their missions and guiding principles are followed to ensure the integrity of boxing. Whether or not that is a realistic goal is open to question. McLaren’s report is open to criticism given the lack of specifics and failure to identify an ultimate culprit. Further, given the nature of the past and current leadership of the AIBA, and the long history of questionable decisions by match judges, skepticism is warranted that amateur boxing will get it right anytime soon.

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