LAUSANNE, Switzerland. Fighting to keep their sport in the Olympics, boxing officials were warned on Monday to change their historic culture of breaking the rules.
Investigator Richard McLaren said the world boxing organization, formerly known as AIBA, was “rife with corruption” as he delivered a final report commissioned by a new leadership trying to defeat the IOC and reclaim the Olympics.
McLaren has traced a legacy of financial and fairness issues to CK Wu’s 2006-17 presidency, although he has also pointed to continued alleged misconduct in recent boxing tournaments.
The 114-page final investigative report highlights ongoing concerns about “unfounded” judgments and warnings to boxers by referees, as well as secret signals between arena officials.
“People in the sport have to change,” McLaren said. “They rooted learned behavior in a culture that historically didn’t respect ethics or honesty.”
A total of 22 “high-risk officials” have been eliminated from selection as part of improved vetting of judges and referees, McLaren said at a press conference, with three cases referred for disciplinary action and another 15 officials under stricter scrutiny.
The fights at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, recorded by “involved and obedient” referees and judges, were detailed by McLaren last year and added to the IOC’s doubts about boxing’s ability to reform.
In 2019, the IOC suspended AIBA from the Tokyo Olympics and boxing was removed from the list of sports for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Until mid-2023, to convince the IOC, the International Boxing Association, renamed under Russian President Umar Kremlev, enlisted McLaren to identify its past problems and help bring about change.
“If the sport wants to keep its place in the Olympic family, it must act now,” a Canadian law professor said on Monday.
He highlighted the financial crisis and the consequences of Wu’s misguided “big dream” of organizing a series of professional boxers to hasten the decline of AIBA.
“Corruption flourished,” McLaren said. “The seepage effect was that officials at all levels of the sport felt they could break the rules with impunity.”
Wu was a long-time member of the IOC who, an investigation revealed, was sidetracked by AIBA due to his failed bid to run for president of the Olympic organization in 2013. He was one of six candidates in the election that Thomas Bach won.
The Taiwanese official was replaced at AIBA by Gafur Rakhimov, who was allegedly linked to drug trafficking and who was chosen by voters despite the concerns of the IOC.
The IOC also did not convince the Kremlin, who was elected first in 2020 and paid off the debts of the IBA by inviting the Russian energy company Gazprom as a sponsor.
“Whatever the debate over the source of funding,” McLaren’s report says, “escalated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is no doubt that Gazprom’s sponsorship saved AIBA.”
Recommendations to build confidence in boxing management and the integrity of future fights included the establishment of a training academy for referees and officials. The Lausanne-based boxing body should also have tighter control of the playing field with fewer accredited people.
“I’m sure boxing doesn’t count,” McLaren concluded.