(ATR) The Executive Director of the International Boxing Association watches his sport’s tournament at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games from a second story perch.
Virgets in his perch at Buenos Aires (ATR)
Tom Virgets has followed all bouts in Buenos Aires from a folding chair on a ledge above the boxing ring. It gives him a bird’s eye view of the action, but it is also symbolic. The location is meant to show that AIBA leadership is removed from the direct administration of the boxing tournament.
So much so, Virgets says he positioned his perch to avoid seeing scores of the matches.
“You won’t see me any time within a half an hour of competition inside the field of play,” Virgets tells Around the Rings
. “There has to be a separation completely.”
Officials know the tournament in Buenos Aires must be a success as the IOC weighs the fate of the sport on the Olympic program.
Boxing has added additional levels of scrutiny to its Youth Olympic tournament to abate IOC concern about judging at federation tournaments like the Olympics. The IOC has hired auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers to assess the tournament.
Five judges will score the bouts at the Youth Olympic Games, at which the judges are randomly selected. AIBA then has a team of evaluators looking at the scoring in real time to detect any abnormalities with referees or the ring judge. Another layer of safeguarding is present, with an evaluator observing the process of referee and judge evaluation.
Overseeing the entire process are the auditors hired by the IOC. Those auditors will produce an evaluation report after the tournament, which it will present to the IOC as part of its assessment of the federation’s system.
“We 100 percent welcome [the auditors],” Virgets said of the process. “We have all the experts in boxing in our room, but we are not process experts by any means. We are not people who work on how to improve efficiencies. A lot of times it is very healthy for us to reach to an outsider to show us what we perhaps are overlooking.”
The IOC Executive first rang the alarm on the governance situation with AIBA at a December 2017 meeting. The board suspended payments to AIBA and demanded the federation produce a report on governance reforms.
Boxing Men's Super Heavy (+91kg), Dennis Jai Ropata (AUS) hits Drones Aleksei (RUS)
Ahead of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics the Executive Board maintained its decision and remained dissatisfied with AIBA. A deadline of April was given for the federation to produce a governance report, which did not satisfy the IOC.
Currently AIBA has only one candidate for President, the current interim leader Gafur Rakhimov from Uzbekistan. The IOC said that if he is elected president boxing’s place on the Olympic program at Tokyo 2020 could be at risk.
Trust in the refereeing and scoring system for Olympic boxing has been a scourge for AIBA for decades. Thirty years ago last month, American Roy Jones Jr. lost his gold medal bout at Seoul ‘88 through a controversial decision. An IOC report, nine years later, concluded that judges had improper contact with South Korean officials before the match, but the decision stood.
Further scandals came at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics through questionable refereeing. After the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the IOC even withheld some television rights funds from AIBA due to the scandal.
AIBA barred all judges who worked the Rio 2016 Olympics from competition after the Games as it conducted an investigation into suspicious results. The officials were eventually reintegrated in the judging pool, but the investigation found “a lack of proper procedural norms” tarnished the tournament.
In addition to judging, Virgets said that AIBA is focusing on educating coaches to be “better sportsmen,” so they do not have a direct effect on pressuring judges. The federation is also working on new protest procedures, so athletes have a chance to advocate for themselves after what they perceive is an egregiously suspicious bout.
AIBA and the IOC have maintained working level contacts throughout the impasse in an effort to resolve the standoff. Virgets said he and his staff talk with IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell multiple times a week, and have received IOC staff at the venue.
Boxing Women's Light (57-60kg), Aramokola Fatima Ayomide (NGR) aims to hit left straight to Lawson Emma (AUS) (ATR)
An IOC spokesperson confirmed to ATR
that President Thomas Bach is scheduled to visit the boxing competition in the coming days before the 2018 YOG ends.
In Buenos Aires, 82 boxers from 38 countries will compete in 13 events. The boys have nine events, while the girls compete in four. Medals will be awarded on the final two days of the 2018 YOG.
Under Virgets' eye, quarterfinal bouts for both genders played out in a venue packed with noisy Argentine fans. Near the end of the session hometown boxer Oriana Saputo sent the crowd into a frenzy with a win. The energy carried over into the final bout won by Caroline Sara Dubois.
The disconnect between the crisis behind the scenes and the youthful optimism inside the ring was on display in the mixed zone.
“I think [organizers have] done really well,” Dubois said to ATR
. “It is really exciting with the arena and the stadium right on top of the boxing; it is right there in front of you and spurs you on.”
Coverage of the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games is made possible in part by BA 2018
Written by Aaron Bauer in Buenos Aires
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