Liam Morgan

It may have taken years, if not decades, but some sense and pragmatism has finally started to creep into the decision-making process at the International Boxing Association (AIBA).

Today’s crunch Extraordinary Executive Committee meeting contained the usual disorder and disarray. There were walkout threats, votes of no confidence and nonsensical proposals from members who should have been sacked a long time ago.

Among all the chaos and carnage which has become synonymous with AIBA in the past 18 months or so were, however, a couple of long-awaited yet much-needed steps made in the right direction. Yes, really.

For a start, a controversial bylaw which had been hanging over the embattled organisation with the menace of an incoming uppercut from Mike Tyson was scrapped, much to the satisfaction of those on the ruling body who saw the light much earlier than some of their counterparts.

Article 16 effectively allowed Gafur Rakhimov a free pass back to the top job following his decision to “step aside” – a term I am frequently reminded has no legal bearing – in March.

Now, if he wants to return to the hotseat, he will have to do it the hard way – by beating other candidates in a democratic election.

The move will go some way to appeasing the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which officially stripped AIBA of its recognition during its Session in Lausanne yesterday, as the Inquiry Committee had openly expressed severe concern over the bylaw and what it meant for the future governance of the organisation.

Gafur Rakhimov has been blocked from returning as AIBA President without an election ©AIBA
Gafur Rakhimov has been blocked from returning as AIBA President without an election ©AIBA

At this stage, the return of Rakhimov, among those most responsible for the crisis AIBA finds itself in, seems highly unlikely. Support for the 67-year-old within the Executive Committee appears to have diminished, with the man described as “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals” by the United States Treasury Department relying on the old guard to ensure he retains control behind the scenes.

On the other hand, we must remember this is AIBA. This is an organisation which deliberately defied the IOC by electing Rakhimov as President in November.

This is a governing body which thinks there is no issue with keeping officials deeply ingrained in the judging and refereeing scandal and, in some cases, even promoting them.

This is an organisation that thought the best course of action with the IOC was to slam, attack and criticise the body – which does have questions to answer with the way it handled this whole saga – at every opportunity.

It is what makes today’s decisions seem scarcely believable, so against the manner in which it has conducted business since Rakhimov assumed interim power in January 2018.

With the very last item, the AIBA Executive Committee finally heeded the demands of some of its members by calling an Extraordinary Congress to elect a new leadership, including the President, in Lausanne in November.

Tom Virgets was given an extension to his contract as executive director, which had been due to expire on June 28 ©AIBA
Tom Virgets was given an extension to his contract as executive director, which had been due to expire on June 28 ©AIBA

This is another decision certain to go down well with the IOC, which will monitor AIBA’s progress towards its potential reinstatement after a boxing tournament is held at Tokyo 2020 without its involvement.

Yet it is far from enough to bring AIBA away from the brink of collapse. It is a decision the national federations, some of which are culpable for electing Rakhimov in the first place, simply must get right.

There is no margin for error. Either AIBA shows it is willing to change and reform by selecting an official free of any baggage, be it an alleged criminal conviction or remaining on a US Treasury sanctions list as a key cog in the heroin trade, or its hopes of being reinstated in time for Paris 2024 will fade faster than an endorsement from Franco Falcinelli.

The feeling emanating from the meeting was that progress had been made, but it was still littered with the same mistakes, self-defeating disputes and a general refusal to accept the severity of the situation.

As good, honest people prepare to lose their jobs at AIBA for the failings and ineptitude of the top brass, there are members who act as if there is not an issue. Move along, nothing to see here.

Instead of taking what many Executive Committee members believe is the right call by putting the bankruptcy proceedings in motion, one official on the body proposed asking the IOC for a loan.

Another idea was to create a World Cup series – a good idea in principle – to generate more revenue and increase the number of major amateur boxing events worldwide.

If that sounds familiar, it is because it is. That was the thinking behind the World Series of Boxing, which started promisingly but has since been a disaster for AIBA and will shortly be disbanded for good.

Mohamed Moustahsane came in for criticism from AIBA Executive Committee members ©AIBA
Mohamed Moustahsane came in for criticism from AIBA Executive Committee members ©AIBA

Fighting spirit is an admirable trait but not when it is given priority over better judgement and rational thinking. Outsiders must look at AIBA and shake their heads when official after official vows to carry on, even with a crippling CHF17 million debt, a bank balance of around $220,000 and an inability to earn significant income until Tokyo 2020 has been and gone.

There is also apparently enough money in AIBA’s coffers to continue to pay Tom Virgets, who had his stay as executive director extended by a narrow two-vote margin, despite the American admitting, rather candidly, that he had failed in the role.

If there was one decision which summed up the way AIBA operates, then it was the choice of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Prodvyus as chair of one of three taskforces established in another last-ditch attempt to save its future just a few hours before he became the subject of a potential ethics investigation.

The establishment of the taskforces – on relations with the IOC, preparations for the Congress and finances – also suggest AIBA is kicking the can down the road, rather than taking direct action to repair its multitude of problems.

In attendance at the first part of the meeting today were IOC Executive Board member Nenad Lalović, chair of the Monitoring Committee and who led the Inquiry Committee which recommended AIBA lose its Olympic status, and sports director Kit McConnell.

There was a sense the Executive Committee would behave in front of their masters and then tear each other apart and, while it was not perhaps the explosive meeting some had anticipated, it was still fiery enough to remind us how AIBA got itself in this mess.

It remains to be seen whether AIBA is beginning to wake up and realise the gravity of the crisis or if the positive steps taken today are too little, too late.