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Gafur Rakhimov’s AIBA election puts boxing’s Olympic future at risk

The Uzbek takes power following elections held at the 2018 AIBA Congress in Moscow.

Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has been a contributor at Bad Left Hook since 2018.

On Saturday, amateur boxing’s worst fear was realised as the controversial Uzbek, Gafur Rakhimov, was elected as the next president of the International Boxing Association.

Winning 84 of the 134 votes cast, the businessman won the vote amidst extraordinary scenes in Moscow. With the electronic voting system failing, votes were forced to be cast in a makeshift voting booth using tables stacked together with sheets covering each voter; ballot papers were put into cardboard boxes as all professionalism was drained from the event, replicating a high school’s vote for prom king and queen.

Rakhimov has recently made the headlines after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expressed their concerns regarding the 67-year-old’s quest for power. Having been strongly linked with Russian transnational criminal organisations, the IOC’s president Thomas Bach stated that he was “extremely worried” about AIBA’s governance and finance procedures, with fears building whether boxing will be dropped from the upcoming Tokyo Olympic games in 2020.

His opponent in the presidential election was Serik Konakbayev, a retired Kazakh boxer who promised to overhaul the current system with a focus on facing the issues recognised by the IOC. Backed by England Boxing and many of the European federations, Konakbayev was seen as a safe appointment in tidying up AIBA in issues relating to corruption and drugs, as well as finance.

Despite being disappointed by the result, Konakbayev hinted that he may appeal the decision, with a desire to fight for the sport he loves: “I am obviously disappointed with the result but I remain committed to our sport and I promise to continue fighting for the future of Olympic boxing and the Olympic dreams of boxers everywhere. My team is reviewing the decision as well as the election process.

”As I said throughout my campaign, this is not the end but the start of a movement to reform the world governing body and save boxing. We will not give up the fight. round one is over, the bell for round two is chiming. I thank everyone who supported me. Together we will make boxing great again!”

Rakhimov - still strongly disputing the claims that have been made against him - chose his acceptance speech to highlight his intentions of moving the sport forward: “Today has been a great day for AIBA and it represents an important step forward for boxing. I am honoured to have been elected as the President of AIBA and I want to thank the AIBA family for their trust and for allowing me to continue leading this great organization. I am confident that, together with my new AIBA Executive Committee members, the AIBA staff and the national federations, we will be able to continue on the progress made in bringing boxing into a brand new era.

With this election, AIBA and the IOC’s conflict has now been officially renewed. After being threatened to get their house in order, the association has decided to go with a controversial figure at the helm; the IOC’s suspension of funding for AIBA in December last year has appeared to have done little to shake-up the hierarchy.

Much of the committee that was formed under the previous president (the now banned for life CK Wu) still exist, including the vice presidents. With little changing since the IOC’s threats in December and April, expect further disagreements as we approach the new year, with Tokyo 2020 getting closer.

Boxing and the Olympics have a glittering history rivaling most of the other sports contested at the world’s most famous games. Legends are born, cutting their teeth against the very best in their weight category. In an age where the term ‘amateur’ holds little relevance in all other Olympic sports, boxing still underpins this value, with the dream of turning pro often realised after securing a medal for your country.

There is still time. The exclusion of boxing at Tokyo 2020 may still seem unlikely, however, the AIBA need to start working for the good of the sport before it’s too late.

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