If your objective was to see your sport barred from the Olympics, naming a man labelled “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals” as federation president might not be a bad strategy.
Thanks to boxing’s ever-interesting governing body, AIBA, we may soon see if the gambit works.
AIBA, of course, is not actually trying to have boxing excluded from the 2020 Games in Tokyo despite naming as its head a man linked to the heroin trade.
AIBA executives insist that with new leadership installed the federation has moved past the scandal-plagued era of ousted president Wu Ching-Kuo, whom they accuse of bringing AIBA to the brink of financial collapse.
The International Olympic Committee is not convinced that things are quite so rosy.
Shortly after Gafur Rakhimov was named acting AIBA president in January, IOC chief Thomas Bach said he was “extremely worried” about the federation’s governance and “extremely concerned” about Rakhimov’s appointment.
In December, the United States Treasury Department designated the 66-year-old Uzbek national as a key collaborator of the transnational criminal group Thieves-in-Law, which Washington says “originated in Stalinist prison camps”.
After beginning his career in extortion and car theft, Rakhimov has become “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals and an important person involved in the heroin trade,” according to a Treasury Department statement.
His US assets have been frozen and American businesses are barred from dealing with him.
– ‘Dissatisfied’ –
AIBA was in the IOC’s crosshairs before Rakhimov was named president at a Congress in Dubai.
That scrutiny was heightened amid the bizarre events that led to Wu’s removal, which included petitions in Swiss court, employees locked out of AIBA’s office in Lausanne and claims that millions of dollars had gone missing.
But in a February 4 statement titled “IOC Executive Board dissatisfied with AIBA”, Olympic bosses upped the pressure and gave the federation until April 30 to clarify its financial situation and governance.
The IOC has cut off all payments to AIBA, opened an ethics investigation and underscored that it retained the right to exclude boxing from this year’s Youth Games in Buenos Aires and Tokyo 2020.
If barred from Tokyo, it would mark boxing’s first absence from the Olympics since Stockholm 1912, when the sport was banned in Sweden.
– ‘Energy and optimism’ –
For Pat Fiacco, a long-standing AIBA insider and key player in Wu’s ouster, the federation is basking in “a time of renewal.”
“The situation at AIBA is very positive, full of energy and optimism as we work hard to improve its governance, finances and management,” he told AFP.
Because Rakhimov was the senior vice president when Wu departed, appointing him acting chief was consistent with AIBA rules.
But Fiacco dismissed suggestions that the Uzbek should be sidelined in order to pacify the IOC.
Rakhimov “has the full support and confidence of the AIBA Executive Committee,” said Fiacco, the former mayor of Canada’s city of Regina.
In a letter sent to all national boxing federations this week, Rakhimov said he was “fully aware that AIBA urgently needs to improve on many fronts,” including “good governance, organisational ethics and diversity.”
Tom Virgets, a former athletic director at the US Naval Academy, has been brought in to serve as Rakhimov’s executive director.
– Return of the old guard? –
It is not new faces, like Virgets, that are raising concern.
Questions are being raised about the apparent return of dubious characters from AIBA’s past, most notably South Korea’s Ho Kim, a former executive director who was sacked by Wu following a petition from staff accusing him of harassment.
Rakhimov has surrounded himself with people who had plotted against Wu and “wanted to regain control of AIBA for their own benefit”, a source close to the organisation said on condition of anonymity.
And documents seen by AFP show that AIBA has recently paid Ho 340,000 Swiss francs, ($359,000, 291,000 euros) apparently for settling an outstanding dispute.
Fiacco denied that Ho was an AIBA employee, but said the new administration was using him as a “reference for information” given his intimate knowledge of the damaging contracts signed under Wu’s tenure.