At AIBA, Need for Consensus Candidate Grows

Olympic boxing is at a crossroads. The International Boxing Association (AIBA) that represents amateur boxing worldwide, has implemented key reforms since it was suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year. It is set to elect a new president in less than two months’ time, who will be key to taking the reform agenda forward. But so far, the four candidates that have thrown their hats into the ring do not inspire much confidence.

In the left corner is Anas Al Otaiba of the UAE, who is an AIBA vice-president and a member of its Executive Committee. He claims that AIBA has reached a “tipping point” after it was suspended by the IOC over concerns about its governance, finances, and refereeing and judging.

However, Al Otaiba is a close associate of Gafur Rakhimov, the former AIBA president who is under US sanctions over allegations of heroin trafficking and organised crime. It is due to Rakhimov’s election as AIBA president in November 2018 that the IOC finally took notice of the mess within AIBA. Rakhimov was forced to stand down in March 2019, but the IOC still suspended AIBA two months later. Al Otaiba’s strong ties with Rakhimov leave a huge question mark over the UAE candidate. Al Otaiba is seen as simply too tainted for a sport federation hoping to project a new clean image.

In the right corner is Suleyman Mikayilov from Azerbaijan. The fact that his country is in the middle of a serious conflict with Armenia will not win him many friends. AIBA needs stability and vision – the last thing it needs right now is a candidate who is divisive. Add to that the fact that Mikayilov has no reform agenda to speak of. He has sent an online survey to AIBA’s national federations, asking for them to provide him feedback so he can put together his manifesto! Without a clear vision of his own, Mikayilov remains a weak candidate.

The underdog is Domingo Solano of the Dominican Republic. He has many friends among South American federations, but he is seen as lacking the personal capability and heft required to bring all of AIBA’s 203 national federations together.

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The latest candidate surfaced from Holland this week. Boris Van der Vorst is the President of the Dutch Boxing Federation, which touted “his passionate involvement over the past decade”. Curiously however, he has implied among boxing circles that he was encouraged to run by the International Olympic Committee as he is “western European”. If that were true, it would not only be undemocratic but also an affront to all the other candidates. The IOC is prohibited from interfering in the election and politics of an autonomous international federation, but is known to have done so in the past, most recently for the presidential elections in World Sailing.

Boxing needs a confident AIBA president with vision, who can chart a clear path for the sports body to be reinstated in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024. AIBA simply cannot afford having a president who is seen as tainted, weak, lacking a vision, or simply because he’s “European”.

The organisation needs a consensus candidate who can bring all its federations together to work in a united manner. Since none of the four candidates announced so far meet the bill, one can only hope that such a candidate emerges before nominations close on November 2.

Will a real leader come forward in the next two weeks? One can only hope – the future of AIBA depends on it. As they say, cometh the hour, cometh the man.

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Phillipe Jeune

Phillipe Jeune

Phillipe Jeune is a Paris-based freelance journalist, and an occasional contributor to EU Today. He has a background in intelligence gathering, and he specialises in business and political matters, with a particular interest in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.

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