Saturday, August 11, 2012

AIBA's Corruption at the London Olympics

One of the saddest aspects of the 2012 London Olympics has been the massive corruption associated with its boxing tournament. AIBA is the organization that is in charge of the Olympics' boxing program and it has a proven history of corruption.

In 2008, medals were bought, the corruption was exposed, and officials replaced. Last year, the BBC investigated the pending purchase of gold medals by Azerbaijan (part 1 here, part 2 here). The Azerbaijan government (or possibly an investor working through the government) made a curious investment in AIBA's semi-pro series in the United States. BBC uncovered emails to and from AIBA official Ivan Khodabakhsh linking the investment to the purchase of two gold medals for Azeri boxers during these Olympics.

The head of AIBA, Ching-Kuo Wu, who actually shutdown a press conference in 2008 that shed light on the purchase of medals at the Beijing Olympics, promised the BBC that an investigation would be conducted. Meanwhile, Khodabakhsh remains with AIBA.

During the London Olympics, curious decisions have been rampant. Two of the most ridiculous helped fighters from Azerbaijan. The New Yorker reported, the AIBA official from Azerbaijan, Aghajan Abiyev, said before the games,  “I consider that it will not be a big problem for our famous boxers to win medal in the Olympics. Surely, our boxers will gain medals in Olympic Games and we’ll see the type of medal in London.” Turns out they were two bronzes.

Abiyev and referee Ishanguly Meretnyyazov were expelled after Magomed Abdulhamidov received an absurd decision after being knocked down repeatedly in the third round against Satoshi Shimizu (watch the third round). I would argue that the expulsion of the two officials and the overturning of the decision does not represent an AIBA crackdown on corruption. Instead, the officials were punished for an incompetent and obvious attempt at corruption.

Teymur Mammadov of Azerbaijan, who took a bronze medal, was also given a laughable decision against Siarhei Karneyeu (watch the third round).

Other decisions have been dubious. Iran's Ali Mazaheri believes his fight was fixed after he was disqualified following repeated warnings for infractions that he wasn't really committing (watch round two). Today, in the light flyweight gold medal match, China's Shi ming Zou was given the decision over Thailand's Kaeo Pongprayoon with help from the referee. The crowd booed heavily. Worse, before the decision was announced, Zou acted like a man who knew he would get the decision. Pongprayoon prayed for a win he knew he deserved, but wasn't confident he would receive. As Zou's name was announced, Pongprayoon collapsed to the ground in grief and disbelief.

Perhaps the only tolerable aspect of watching Olympic boxing is the cathartic release that announcers Bob Papa and Teddy Atlas provide as they rail against AIBA's blatant corruption. Yesterday, AIBA asked Papa and Atlas to move from their ringside post because they were distracting AIBA officials. You can see how exposing AIBA's corruption would be distracting for their officials.

U.S. boxers have suffered mightily due to the corruption. No American male boxer advanced to the medal round. Errol Spence had to have a decision overturned to sneak him into the quarterfinals. He lost that in that quarterfinal contest, one he arguably should have won. Terrell Gausha lost by one point, a fight he deserved to win. Michael Hunter lost a tied decision in a fight that he too deserved to win.

While AIBA has denied wrongdoing, it is hard to imagine mere incompetence being the culprit for so many bad decisions.

Ching-Kuo Wu must be ousted as head of AIBA. The IOC needs to take a more active role in regulating the Olympic boxing tournament or, as painfully as this would be for boxers and fans, remove the sport from its games. The Olympics must be about fair play to hold legitimacy. The boxing tournament currently isn't.

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