Liam Morgan

Following the landmark Caster Semenya versus International Association of Athletics Federations case, another dispute appears to be heading to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) later this month.

The row between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Boxing Association (AIBA) may not divide opinion quite like Semenya but the outcome could still have far-reaching consequences for the organisation and the future of the sport.

Just as it has been clear for some time that the IOC is trying to sanction AIBA in some way – if not, why bother conducting the protracted inquiry into the governing body? – it quickly became apparent this conflict would be settled by lawyers at sport’s highest court.

The IOC is many things under Thomas Bach but legally inept is not one of them. Throughout the process, the administration and the committee leading the investigation would have sought advice to ensure any decision it took – however drastic and unprecedented it may seem – stood up to a challenge from AIBA.

Concurrently, insiders at AIBA have privately vowed to fight any punishment handed down by the IOC.

It would be naïve to think the IOC would not concoct a plan in the time between the probe being launched in December and D-day for AIBA, the Executive Board meeting in Lausanne on May 22.

As is often the case in these scenarios, especially in the politically-charged world of the Olympic Movement, the devil will be in the detail when the decision is announced.

For the avoidance of any doubt, the IOC want to have – and will have a boxing tournament at next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Who organises it and who runs the qualification competition is the key issue.

All the noises emanating from the dispute, which has played out privately and publicly, suggest it will not be AIBA.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach responds to questions from the media during the Australian Olympic Committee Annual General Meeting in Sydney ©Getty Images
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach responds to questions from the media during the Australian Olympic Committee Annual General Meeting in Sydney ©Getty Images

Speaking at the Australian Olympic Committee Annual General Assembly this weekend, Bach gave his strongest signal yet that the IOC would strip AIBA of its recognition and an alternative body would organise the boxing tournament at the Games in the Japanese capital.

"Will it be AIBA or will we have to find a different way?” Bach said.

“This depends on the results of an inquiry we have into AIBA which is looking at governance, finance, judging and refereeing – it is very, very serious.

“If the case arises we would have to make an effort to have it and to have the qualification process.

“Organising a sports event is not rocket science so I guess we will be able to manage it."

AIBA’s recent moves also have an air of resignation about them as, by vowing to initiate legal action should the IOC’s decision be “unfavourable”, it has seemingly admitted the verdict will not go its way.

Rumour has it that Bach’s comments – the clearest indication of the direction the IOC is heading in since the start of the probe – were a direct response to the threat from AIBA. 

insidethegames has been told the letter sent by Interim President Mohamed Moustahsane to AIBA’s Executive Committee detailing the possibility of legal action also arrived on the desk of a senior member of the IOC administration.

The leak of the letter to the media was the latest in a catalogue of errors made by AIBA since the IOC established the investigation six months ago.

As one insider put it to me recently, AIBA has continually “shot itself in the foot” with the questionable statements, decisions and appointments it has made.

Senior AIBA members have been at pains to stress the supposed progress made by the embattled organisation under Gafur Rakhimov, who stepped aside as President in March after finally realising AIBA had little chance of retaining its status as the Olympic governing body for the sport if he was still at the helm.

The trouble is, much of this has been superseded by the way AIBA has gone about its business.

For a start, it has appointed officials to its Executive Committee without any real democratic process, including one member who was accused of deliberately misleading AIBA’s membership by the IOC last year.

Most organisations would rid itself of such a character but not AIBA. Instead, AIBA gave him a cushy and influential job as chairman of its Compliance Unit.

AIBA has also hailed an astonishing offer from Russian Umar Kremlev – widely tipped to be the next permanent President – to write off its significant debt, which AIBA says is in the region of $16 million (£12 million/€14 million) but others believe is much more than that.

Umar Kremlev has offered to write off the International Boxing Association's debt ©Getty Images
Umar Kremlev has offered to write off the International Boxing Association's debt ©Getty Images

This is despite Kremlev, a member of the Executive Committee and first vice-president of the European Boxing Confederation (EUBC), giving no explanation as to where the money is coming from. The offer certainly provides more questions than answers.

The EUBC has also been at the centre of a split in AIBA in recent weeks after the continental body, led by Franco Falcinelli – who has more faces than a town hall clock – set up a working group in a desperate bid to save the sport’s future.

By doing so, the EUBC was sending a signal that it has no faith in the combative approach taken by AIBA. In response, the worldwide governing body swiftly swatted aside Falcinelli, insisting it was the only organisation worthy of discussing the subject with the IOC and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.

And then there is the overarching public relations battle AIBA has waged on the IOC throughout the inquiry.

The IOC's method has not exactly been completely above board but it still holds the future of AIBA in its hands. With that in mind, surely a better tactic is to comply and dance to the tune of the puppet-masters at Olympic headquarters?

All of this paints a negative picture for the IOC, which is weighing up its options regarding the possible sanction and punishment it will hand down to AIBA in little more than two weeks.

Among the possible moves it could make is installing an independent auditor for the Tokyo 2020 boxing event, perhaps with the involvement of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who performed a similar role at last year’s Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

The IOC choosing an alternative body to organise and run Olympic boxing at Tokyo 2020 seems the most likely possibility, although time is of the essence if this is to happen. After all, the Games in the Japanese capital are only 14 months away.

Given that AIBA has claimed the IOC will be going against the Olympic Charter if it effectively terminates its relationship with amateur boxing’s governing body, it will be interesting to see what the IOC comes up with in Lausanne on May 22.

The outcome may be uncertain at this point but one thing is for sure – it will not be the end of the dispute and the CAS will almost certainly have the final word.