AIBA establishes special investigation committee

The AIBA has acted in the wake of allegations that large amounts of money were paid out in an attempt to ensure boxers from Azerbaijan received gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics. The claims, made on the BBC’s Newsnight programme in the UK on Thursday evening, included allegations of payments of millions of dollars from an Azeri national to the AIBA’s World Series of Boxing (WSB), a tournament inaugurated by the body last year. The money was allegedly in return for guaranteed gold medals for Azerbaijan in boxing competitions at the Games.

The AIBA has announced the formation of a five-man panel headed by Tom Virgets, chairman of the body’s Disciplinary Commission. An AIBA statement read: “While this exemplifies AIBA’s zero tolerance attitude to corruption and absolute commitment to ensuring transparency in the sport of boxing, at this stage AIBA is not aware of any credible evidence to suggest that the allegation that WSB’s chief operating officer, Mr Ivan Khodabakhsh, promised the award of two gold medals in return for payment is true. Ivan Khodabakhsh is a man of integrity and AIBA trusts him and respects his work. Mr. Khodabakhsh has confirmed to AIBA that he will co-operate fully and freely with the AIBA Special Investigation Committee.”

Citing unnamed “whistleblowers” and “insiders”, the BBC alleged that US$9 million was paid by an Azerbaijan national to WSB, adding that the funds were needed as the Series had run into financial difficulties in the United States. AIBA has admitted that it accepted a loan from a “private Azerbaijani investor” but has questioned the reliability of the BBC’s sources and the potential to influence results at the Olympics.

“Any suggestion that the loan was made in return for promises of gold medals at the 2012 Olympics is, we repeat, preposterous and utterly untrue,” AIBA added. “AIBA/WSB believe that such allegations have been made by individuals with an axe to grind, who are totally discredited. As well as unjustifiably imputing corruption to AIBA/WSB, they demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the procedures which now lead to the award of Olympic boxing medals and the impossibility of influencing these.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) official who oversaw reforms of the AIBA in the wake of the 2004 Olympics has admitted his “shock” at the allegations. The IOC withheld $1.1 million in Olympic television revenues from AIBA after the Athens Games. The money was paid in full in 2007 after AIBA implemented reforms and improved the sport’s scoring and judging systems. Gerhard Heiberg stated he didn’t believe it was possible to fix medal results, but added the allegations should be investigated and AIBA should face “consequences” if bribes were paid. “I feel we have found systems now to prevent things like that,” he told The Associated Press. “I cannot see how it could be possible to fix and give two gold medals. I cannot see how it can function in practice. Fifteen years ago yes, but not today.”