The International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA), amateur boxing’s governing body, is investigating corruption charges implicating Azerbaijan and the World Series of Boxing. Allegations first surfaced after being reported on BBC TV’s Newsnight. According to the BBC, Azerbaijan allegedly paid $9 million to the World Series of Boxing in exchange for a guarantee of two gold medals at the 2012 Olympics in London. The AIBA launched its subsidiary World Series of Boxing as a franchised league and organizes boxing at the Olympics.

Azeri boxers may be facing knockout in the 2012 Olympics before even stepping in the ring.

The president of the AIBA, Wu Ching-Kuo, immediately denounced the claims made by the BBC. Ching-Kuo referred to the claims as “totally untrue and ludicrous.” Despite his denial of the alleged bribe, Ching-Kuo has promised to investigate the claims. The AIBA is not denying the actual payment of $9 million, but rather the purpose of the payment. After the Newsnight allegations were aired, the AIBA issued a statement claiming an Azeri investor made a loan to the World Series of Boxing for commercial purposes in order to get a commercial return. The AIBA’s statement added that “any suggestion that the loan was made in return for promises of gold medals at the 2012 Olympics is preposterous and utterly untrue.”

Azerbaijan is also denying the bribe to the World Series of Boxing. A spokesman on behalf of Azerbaijan told the BBC that “the allegations are based on false facts and absurd conclusions.” The BBC report cited anonymous “whistleblowers” as the source of the allegations. Supposedly the whistleblowers informed BBC reporters that they had learned of the bribe from Ivan Khodabakhsh, the World Series of Boxing’s CEO. Khodabakhsh said the allegations were an “absolute lie.” Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee, welcomed AIBA’s probe into the allegations.

Boxing, an already notoriously corrupt sport, will only suffer as a result of the alleged bribery, whether the AIBA investigation finds the allegations to be true or not. If the AIBA does find a violation, the appropriate punishment and possible criminal sanctions will certainly be controversial. Although a ban of Azeri boxers from the 2012 Olympics in London would be certain, criminal sanctions are unlikely. It is unclear yet whether the Azeri boxers had any knowledge of the bribe made by Azerbaijan. If they indeed lacked knowledge of the bribe, suspension from the 2012 Olympics would be punishing the innocent, rather than the guilty Azeri official behind the bribe.  On the other hand, if the Azeri boxers competed and actually won gold, speculations of corruption would surely explode, a situation the International Olympic Committee wants to avoid. Whether the AIBA finds proof of the bribe or not, a cloud of speculation will still surround the validity of boxing, especially in the upcoming 2012 Olympics.

– Ryan Sawyer

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