MOSCOW (AP) — An Uzbek businessman who has been accused of ties to organized crime was elected president of the amateur boxing association on Saturday, putting the sport on a collision course with the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC criticized Gafur Rakhimov’s bid to become head of AIBA, and it has yet to confirm boxing is on the program for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The IOC has threatened to host an Olympic boxing tournament without AIBA, cutting off the financially troubled federation from a key funding source.
Rakhimov said AIBA can repair relations with the IOC, but didn’t give details.
“We can reach an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and if we somehow don’t manage to agree then we will think of something so that boxing doesn’t suffer,” he said.
Rakhimov beat his only challenger, former Kazakh boxer and politician Serik Konakbayev, with 86 votes out of 134 valid ballots cast.
Rakhimov is on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list for alleged links to international heroin trafficking. The sanctions bar U.S. citizens and companies from doing business with him. He has denied wrongdoing.
The IOC said in a statement, “There are issues of grave concern with AIBA regarding judging, finance, and the anti-doping programme, and with governance,” including Rakhimov’s election as president.
The IOC added AIBA will be on the agenda at the next executive board meeting in Tokyo, starting on Nov. 30, and called for “a clear roadmap for long-term sustainable reform of the federation.”
Speaking before the vote, Rakhimov — who served as AIBA interim president since January — sought to play down tensions with the IOC.
“Boxing will definitely be on the Tokyo Olympic Games program, and also in Paris and Los Angeles (in 2024 and 2028), just like any future Olympic Games. It’s in no way linked to your choice of AIBA president,” he said.
“If any temporary issues arise between AIBA and the IOC, linked to the election of any AIBA official, including me, in that case we know how to solve them. Boxing and the Olympic Games are inseparable.”
Rakhimov had suggested he could take an extended leave of absence from AIBA to help repair IOC relations, but a proposed rule change that would allow him to do that while retaining voting rights on AIBA’s board was defeated twice at the congress.
Delegates struggled with an electronic voting system which, in one test, produced more votes than the official delegate count, which had to be re-taken.
Organizers eventually resorted to hastily printed paper ballots and a makeshift voting booth made of tables and sheets.
The defeated candidate, Konakbayev, said he would form an opposition grouping.
“My team is reviewing the decision as well as the election process,” he said. “This is not the end but the start of a movement to reform the world governing body and save boxing. We will not give up the fight. Round one is over, the bell for round two is chiming.”
The U.S. Treasury alleged in 2012 that Rakhimov was “one of the leaders of Uzbek organized crime with a specialty in the organized production of drugs in the countries of Central Asia,” and involved in trafficking heroin. He is preparing a legal challenge in the U.S. to his inclusion on the list.
The sanctions do not amount to a finding of guilt, and Rakhimov’s legal team contends they stem from persecution by people connected to Uzbekistan’s former president, Islam Karimov, who died in 2016.
Rakhimov is based in Dubai after previous legal issues in his native Uzbekistan, where he was at one stage featured on a wanted list, then removed.
Rakhimov was a boxer in his youth before moving into business and then sports politics. In 2007, he lobbied IOC members for Russia’s bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“I can say with real certainty that Sochi would have found it hard to count on victory” without Rakhimov persuading voters from Asia, the then-president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tyagachev, told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper at the time.
As interim president, Rakhimov said he’d saved AIBA from bankruptcy. AIBA reported it was in negative equity of $19 million as of June, against less than $4 million in assets.
Rakhimov said on Friday he convinced AIBA’s creditors to “waive” much of its debt, but didn’t say how.
The IOC has suspended payments to AIBA and did not let Rakhimov attend the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires last month. British authorities previously blocked his accreditation request for the 2012 London Olympics.
Rakhimov also could not attend the 2000 Sydney Olympics when Australia’s government denied him a visa despite being accredited for the games.
AIBA was plunged into financial instability during the 11-year reign of former president C.K. Wu, who had ambitious plans to expand into professional boxing.
Wu was ousted last year and the AIBA executive board has sought to ban him for life over what it called “gross negligence and financial mismanagement.”
Wu has denied wrongdoing.
Besides Rakhimov’s leadership, the IOC has also objected to the frequent disputes over judging at the 2016 Olympics. That prompted a profane tirade from Irish fighter Michael Conlan, who accused AIBA and Russia of corruption after losing a quarterfinal to a Russian opponent.
On doping, AIBA executive director Tom Virgets said on Friday it resolved 38 long-running cases this year, but the verdicts were secret.
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