New Boxing President Faces Immediate Challenges

(ATR) Gafur Rakhimov steps in to help upright AIBA while the IOC presses for reform.

(ATR) After nearly 30 years of involvement with Olympic boxing federation AIBA, Gafur Rakhimov steps from ringside observer to calling the shots.

Rakhimov is the new interim president of the embattled International Boxing Association, chosen this past weekend. He steps into a serious situation with the IOC demanding reforms and changes for the sport to continue in the Olympic Games.

The succession shuffle is all part of the aftermath wrought by the demise of ex-president C.K. Wu. He resigned under fire in November after nearly 12 years as president. His downfall was sparked by a series of destabilizing personnel changes, financial deals and other missteps in the recent years.

It wasn’t a move Rakhimov sought. The rules of succession for the federation made him the statutory choice when Franco Falcinelli resigned as interim president last weekend after three months, citing family reasons.

"I accepted this challenge as I have been involved in this sport for over 30 years and have tremendous love and passion for boxing, Rakhimov tells Around the Rings in written responses to a series of questions.

"This motivated me to help AIBA – I couldn’t turn my face away when my beloved sport and organization needed my help," he says.

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Wu, an IOC member in Chinese Taipei since 1988, unrelated to any boxing connections, was the favorite of the IOC in 2006 when he was first elected AIBA president. Rakhimov, also a candidate, stepped aside to allow Wu to remain as the anti-corruption candidate to unseat the long-serving predecessor Anwar Chowdry.

Hailed as a hero when elected, the endgame hasn’t been kind to Wu. By unanimous vote, Wu was denied the title of honorary president at the extraordinary congress of the federation held in Dubai Jan. 27. In negotiations lates last year watched-over by the IOC, Wu won a pledge from Falcinelli to receive the honorary title in exchange for his resignation as president.

But after the Dubai congress heard the litany of defiant moves carried out by Wu in the past year, he lost any friends he might have had in the house. A sea of red cards left no doubt. The absence of any green cards supporting the honor only compounded the ignominy for Wu.

Rakhimov made his first appearance at the congress after the lunch break when the AIBA executive committee confirmed his succession. With 15 years as a vice president, the most senior of AIBA vps, he is well known to the AIBA crowd. In addition to his work in boxing, Rakhimov has close ties to the Olympic Council of Asia, where he has served as a vice president.

The 66-year old, born in Uzbekistan, is a Russian citizen with business interests in real estate, oil and gas. He resides with a large family in Dubai. His six children include boy and girl twins (now adults) and a 15 year old who’s aiming for the pro tennis circuit.

Rakhimov is currently banned from travel to the U.S. by the Treasury Department for alleged ties to organized crime. His lawyers are petitioning for his removal from that list. While Rakhimov has been of interest for his business dealings he has never faced any criminal charges.

None of that matters to the AIBA rank and file who know Rakhimov and his support of the sport. He was welcomed at the congress with a standing ovation.

In the past few weeks, Rakhimov has been instrumental in renegotiating the terms of a $10 million loan to AIBA from an Azerbaijan company. The loan had threatened to throw the federation into bankruptcy.

The initial reaction from the IOC to developments during the weekend in Dubai indicate the federation has some convincing to do.

"The IOC is extremely worried about the governance in AIBA," says a statement issued by an IOC spokesman following the meeting in Dubai.

"The IOC Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer will give a report to the IOC Executive Board Meeting this upcoming week in PyeongChang. The IOC EB will then decide on further measures following up on its decision of 6 December 2017. Last year, the IOC EB had identified several specific requirements to be met by AIBA, particularly in the areas of governance, financial matters, anti-doping, judging and refereeing.

"AIBA was expected to take actions to address these issues. Until the required actions have been fully addressed by thefederation, the IOC had decided to withhold any future financial contributions to AIBA with immediate effect. In all its decisions the IOC will respect the interest of the athletes from AIBA," says the IOC statement.

A final payment due AIBA from the IOC from Rio 2016 is on hold while the federation makes governance reforms. AIBA staff and EC members are at work on the final draft of a report due at the IOC Jan 30.

The latest IOC statement is a reiteration of the December position and does not acknowledge changes made by the federation at the Dubai congress.

Rakhimov tells ATR that rebuilding the relationship with the IOC is part of the process that the federation must address in the months ahead.

"It is hard to define the current relations with the IOC. Our past relationship was developed through just one person, the former President who has been an IOC member since 1988," says Rakhimov.

"Thus, AIBA never had any organization-to-organization relationship with the IOC. It was just one person representing the entire AIBA boxing family. Personally, I have known President Bach for a long time, having met him on many occasions in international sport," Rakhimov says.

Falcinelli defiantly proclaimed the place of boxing in the Olympics in his report to the congress, plenty loud enough for IOC sports director Kit McConnell and summer federation director David Luckes to hear. Both had travelled from Lausanne overnight to be atthe meeting.

But Falcinelli’s spirited defense was as testy as it got with the IOC. Remarkable perhaps given that the big worry from AIBA is the IOC edict to cut two weight classes from the men’s competition. Falcinelli says Wu never told his AIBA colleagues about the decision until two months later, another sin of the former leader.

Talks with the IOC team and AIBA technical director Pat Fiacco are said to have been positive with the three men parting ways in Dubai with smiles. McConnell returns to Lausanne carrying an offer by AIBA to cut the number of overall athletes to preserve the weight classes.

While that is one point of contention between the IOC and the federation, the issues of governance and integrity must also be dealt with by the new AIBA leadership to avoid further action by the IOC.

The biggest news flash of the weekend from the AIBA congress may have been the hiring of U.S. boxing veteran Tom Virgets as executive director. A plain-talking New Orleans native with a distinctive accent, he has been a stalwart of boxing for decades as a boxer, trainer and administrator. Retiring as an athletics director in March from the U.S. Naval Academy, Virgets will move to Lausanne soon afterwards.

While Rakhimov’s ascension was preordained, naming a new executive director was a surprise. For the federation it fills a vital staff position that has been vacant for months. Virgets may be the first person to hold the post with such an impressive pedigree in the sport.

Under the reforms adopted by AIBA this weekend, Virgets and the AIBA EC will play a stronger role in the administration of the federation. Power has been removed from the hands of the president that nearly wrecked the federation. Consulting firm Burson Marsteller Sport has been engaged to provide a more detailed governance review.

All these moves, Rakhimov says are meant to rebuild the trust of the IOC.

"AIBA’s corporate governance and transparency were damaged by the previous management. We need to rebuild these and give them a strong foundation," says Rakhimov in his statement.

"The image and reputation of AIBA have also been seriously tarnished. The organization will now have to work hard to recover its lost credibility.

"There seem to be many misunderstandings with the IOC about the current and past situation in AIBA. We need to straighten out these misunderstandings in order to restore our relationship back to health.

"And finally, we have to restore faith and trust in our organization. We owe it to the millions of boxing fans," says the AIBA interim president.

Rakhimov will hold the interim presidency until November. That’s when the next election is scheduled to elect a president for a full four-year term. Rakhimov is one of several individuals who might seek the post but he says at this time is focus is on the immediate needs of the federation. The election will be held in Moscow November 1-2.

Travel and accommodations provided by AIBA.

Reported by Ed Hula.