LONDON, England, September 23 – The tarnished image of Olympic boxing faced fresh scrutiny on Friday over allegations that multi-million dollar bribes were paid to ensure fighters from Azerbaijan won gold medals at the 2012 Games.
An investigation by the BBC’s Newsnight programme alleged that large sums of money were paid by an Azeri national to organisers of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA)’s World Series of Boxing (WSB).
The money was allegedly paid to secure gold medals for Azeri fighters competing at next year’s Olympics.
AIBA president Wu Ching-Kuo rejected the allegations as “totally untrue and ludicrous” but confirmed the organisation would launch an immediate investigation into the claims.
“I will immediately conduct an investigation into this because there is a zero tolerance policy in AIBA,” Wu said.
“I must say it is totally untrue and ludicrous because AIBA and the WSB conduct in a very fair and transparent way,” he said.
“I want you to know… how much effort I put in to clean the house. Four vice-presidents, a secretary general, six members of the executive committee, all expelled because of wrongdoing.
“Any corruption or manipulation is totally unacceptable. We have been cleaning the house for the last four years. I can guarantee you AIBA, like the other international federations, is fighting corruption.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) welcomed the AIBA’s announcement of an investigation.
“For its part the IOC takes all allegations of corruption very seriously,” the IOC said. “And we would urge the BBC to make any evidence they have available to AIBA and to our Ethics Commission which will then determine if further action is necessary.”
The graft claims emerged as the World Championships — the first Olympic qualifying event for boxing — get under way this weekend in Baku.
The championships were moved to the Azeri capital after being originally awarded to the South Korean port city of Busan.
The BBC investigation, citing an unnamed insider, said the claims involved the AIBA’s World Series of Boxing, a full-time salaried tournament launched last year with the intention of retaining fighters in the amateur ranks.
According to the BBC, the WSB’s chief executive Ivan Khodabaksh had been involved in brokering a deal to secure several million dollars of funding from Azerbaijan in exchange for fixing the boxing competition at the Olympics.
Khodabaksh angrily denied the claims as “an absolute lie.”
“I deny that I have offered anyone two gold medals or have any understanding that anybody else has offered two gold medals to Azerbaijan,” he was quoted by the BBC as saying.
Olympic boxing has long battled allegations of corruption and questions over its scoring system.
The most notorious scandal involved US boxer Roy Jones, who was robbed of a gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, when he lost a split decision to South Korea’s Park Si-Hun despite outpunching his opponent 86-32.
A hugely embarrassed Park held up Jones’ hand to acclaim the American as the rightful winner while the three judges who voted for the Korean were later suspended.
Scoring controversies also dogged boxing during the 2008 Beijing Games, where several fighters complained of being cheated by judges.