(ATR) The International Boxing Association is backed into a corner, but trying to fight its way out in order to save its Olympic life.
AIBA executive director Tom Virgets briefs reporters at round table in Lausanne (ATR)
AIBA executive director Tom Virgets candidly admits the organization inflicted serious damage upon itself through numerous shortcomings, violations and transgressions leading to its suspension by the IOC. Having spent nearly half a century working in the sport, the American is doing everything in his power to bring AIBA back into the ring for the Tokyo Games.
The IOC has warned that AIBA must sort out its finances and governance problems, as well as anti-doping issues in the sport, or risk missing out on the Tokyo 2020 Games.
On Thursday, the embattled boxing governing body will meet with an IOC Ad-Hoc committee to provide responses to 41 questions and requests. The IOC suspended payments to AIBA in December 2017.
“We welcome those questions because it made us look in the mirror at ourselves,” Virgets said. “The IOC said your organization is failing on all fronts.
“We were an absolute mess. Quite frankly, the IOC should have thrown us out around 2014 or 2015 – that is when we were at our absolute worst," Virgets told reporters during a round table session at AIBA’s headquarters in Lausanne on Tuesday.
“We believe that in the past eight months we have made significant strides towards improving our organization,” he said.
Following reviews and interviews, assisted by Deloitte, the IOC is expected to move the matter to the executive board on March 26. Virgets said decisions regarding its Olympic status could then be extended to the IOC session in June.
Rakhimov and Addressing Key Issues
AIBA is currently addressing five key issues in order to be reinstated: governance, anti-doping, referees and judges, finance and the situation concerning its president.
AIBA President Gafur Rakhimov (AIBA)
Virgets defended the controversial AIBA president Gafur Rakhimov, who was elected on Nov. 3 against the IOC's wishes. The AIBA executive director spoke of the merits that the Uzbek businessman has contributed to the organization despite his status on the U.S. Treasury Department’s “sanctions list” for allegedly “providing material support” to a criminal organization.
“The narrative out there is that this man is a mafia boss,” Virgets said of his fellow AIBA executive. “You would think that in 18 years, someone would have figured out how to indict or convict him.
“What is the real crime here?” he asked rhetorically.
Virgets noted that Rakhimov is not on any Interpol list and the prosecutor’s office of his home country of Uzbekistan has not indicted him and has no warrants against him. He said accusations are “based on unfounded evidence.”
“They’ve reviewed his case and said they don’t have a case,” Virgets said.
Virgets said that the process to have Rakhimov’s name removed from the U.S. Treasury list has begun, although he cannot surmise how long it may take.
He said unlike the U.S. judicial system, the U.S. Treasury, which oversees the Internal Revenue Service, acts without due process. Virgets implied that Rakhimov is considered “guilty until proven innocent".
Pertaining to improving its governance, Virgets commended ASOIF for its evaluations and assessment of AIBA following its annual ranking of sports governing bodies. In February 2018, AIBA was ranked second to last among all IFs, but according to Virgets, has climbed steadily since then.
AIBA manuals prepared for the IOC (ATR)
Virgets also addressed AIBA’s anti-doping problems and lack of out-of-competition testing, while advising that the budget this year is $378,000 and will rise to $700,000 in the Olympic year of 2020. He said AIBA is cooperating closely with the International Testing Agency (ITA).
He said finances are improving and the organization being banned from having a Swiss-based bank account due to Rakhimov being placed on the U.S. Treasury list is not a major problem. He said AIBA’s $19 million debt will be reduced to $15.6 million this year with the organization expecting to show positive equity in four years.
He said in 2016, despite Olympic revenue, AIBA’s debt grew worse. “$12.8 million in expense, on what I have no idea. We spent like a bunch of drunken sailors.”
Pertaining to preventing corruption and other issues with refereeing and judging, Virgets advised AIBA has made positive steps, while highlighting various strategies and procedures implemented.
“I’m proud to say that this year we have seen the fruits of this happening,” said the executive director. “We’re building trust back into the system.”
Communication with IOC
Virgets said there needs to be open communication on the executive level and if he had the chance to speak with IOC President Thomas Bach he would ask for two things to resolve the conflict.
“I would ask him one, what is the measuring stick, and secondly, I would ask him to communicate with our leadership and he will find out very quickly that we’re not antagonistic,” Virgets said. “We’re trying to survive, trying to be a good steward of our sport and at the same time good family members of the Olympic program.”
The countdown to Tokyo 2020. Will AIBA be back in the fold before then? (ATR)
He noted that there is a directive in place that the IOC will only consult with AIBA on the operational level and that he personally has developed a productive dialogue with IOC sports director Kit McConnell.
Virgets said AIBA and the IOC must also address political issues.
“We are not trying to fight the IOC – we are asking the IOC to work with us to improve our organization and standing in the Olympic program,” he said.
Virgets said that despite AIBA’s unresolved status with the IOC, plans are moving forward for organizing Olympic boxing trials in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020.
“We have to move forward, we cannot stay in limbo forever,” Virgets said.
Asked by Around the Rings
if he believes AIBA will return to its role of governing boxing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Virgets responded swiftly and confidently.
“I’m confident that boxing is bigger than any political issue that will stop this from taking place,” Virgets said. “Boxing is Olympism, boxing is a pillar of what we’re trying to do.
“We have to start communicating so we find a win-win solution to this issue.”
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Lausanne
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