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Olympic Boxing On The Brink

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  • Olympic Boxing On The Brink



    By Matt McGrain

    In 2012, the United States Treasury Department identified a group called “The Brothers’ Circle” alongside the infamous Japanese Yakuza as being a “significant Transnational Criminal Organization” and, prompted by the then President, Barack Obama, set out in “pursuing additional sanctions against their members and supporters.”

    This has been and remains standard practice for the U.S. in working against its enemies when they lie beyond its borders and ordinary legal jurisdiction. Typically a key member of a criminal or political organization will find his or her assets frozen and their ability to move freely restricted. More, they have been branded, publicly and loudly, as being the worst kind of criminal: organized, powerful and dangerous. This can make doing business and establishing new professional relationships difficult – or at least, that is the theory.

    The Yakuza are well known but “The Brother’s Circle” I had never heard of, and apparently with good reason. In 2012, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project spoke to sometime <em>Guardian</em> journalist and expert in Russian and Eurasian criminal activity <a href="https://t.co/MDn9OQz78a">Mark Galeotti</a> on the subject of The Brother’s Circle and he had this to say: “I have not found anyone in Russian law enforcement or elsewhere who actually says ‘yes, the brother’s circle is an organization and it exists.’ It’s either complete myth, or 99% myth.”

    I spoke to Mark today and he confirmed that this remained his position.

    “I suspect,” wrote Galeotti after the action was handed down, “that given the absence of any other meaningful specific individual gangs to identify, reference to the Circle represents a convenient catch-all term, a way of making sure that Russian OC is included.”

    Among those included is Gafur Rakhimov (pictured).

    “Rakhimov,” claims the Treasury Department, “is one of the leaders of Uzbek organized crime with a specialty in the organized production of drugs in the countries of Central Asia. He has operated major international drug syndicates involving the trafficking of heroin.”

    His passport number and an “alternative” passport number is listed as are other personal details including an address. His alleged background as car thief through to fixer through to drug dealer is laid out, albeit in very little detail. A power-point presentation illustrating some of the names of his associates and their subservient relationship to him is available. He is directly connected to and often identified as being in a position of authority over numerous men linked to murder, the trafficking of human beings and in one instance the assassination of a Ukrainian politician.

    The U.S. Treasury Department is as serious about Gafur Rakhimov as they were about Al Capone.

    Yesterday, Rakhimov was elected as the International Boxing Association (AIBA) president, amateur boxing’s global governing body.

    If you were unaware of this story, and it has not been widely or properly reported by boxing media, take a moment to allow it to sink in.

    The most acute problem here relates to the status of Olympic boxing. For some time the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has harbored concerns about the AIBA and the corruption which purveys the sport it runs. Most Americans reading this will think of the alleged match fixing in Seoul that saw local Park-Si hun “triumph” over Roy Jones; perhaps for the Europeans it may be a fresher memory, that of Michael Conlan who branded the AIBA “f****** cheats” and “cheating bastards” who were “paying [off] everybody” after an inexplicable loss at the 2016 games.

    Sporadically, good journalism has actually outed corrupt judging, as in 1996 when <em>Independent</em> boxing journalist Steve Bunce was all set to travel to Russia to interview a judge caught with a thousand dollar bung. Unfortunately the judge was murdered before Bunce could get to him.

    Japanese administrator Akira Yamane resigned this summer after his association with gangsters and allegations of tampering with officials emerged. The 2012 Azerbaijani amateur boxing scandal was as embroiled and confounding as to defy any thumbnail explanation here, suffice to say that once every four years the Olympics spotlights amateur boxing’s vast and varied shortcomings but they remain a problem year round. The gloom outwith the illumination of the Olympic torch fuels dark deeds.

    So even before the election of Rakhimov as permanent AIBA president, the IOC were “extremely worried” about the governance of the sport and were prepared to take “bold action” against it. Hideous financial mismanagement was as much a concern as corruption, as the AIBA flirted with bankruptcy behind its involvement with Eurasian loans. Rakhimov, who stepped out from behind the shadow of the hapless outgoing president Wu Ching-Kuo, proceeded to direct the rescue of the AIBA to the everlasting gratitude of many of its members.

    The IOC, horrified by the corruption and financial irresponsibility in the sport of amateur boxing seemed dumbfounded by the appearance of Rakhimov as its potential savior. The AIBA was, however, preparing to launch itself out of the proverbial frying pan into the proverbial fire with all the force of an institution actively seeking its own demise.

    “The IOC reserves the right to *review the inclusion of boxing,” it offered, “in the programs of the Youth Olympics 2018 and Tokyo 2020.”

    Boxing was included at the Youth Olympics but Rakhimov was reportedly not accredited. This is as clear an indication as the IOC could make to the AIBA of their opinion of the AIBA’s unopposed nominee for president. It responded by reluctantly allowing opposition which had previously been excluded for petty technical reasons, but nobody was going to beat Rakhimov cold; it’s arguable that nobody could have beaten him with even a fair shake such was his position of power after his handling of the Ching-Kuo debacle. Had Rakhimov come from nowhere it is likely his past would have counted against him but his association with the AIBA is long and strong.

    How this came to be is explained in some small way by the OCCRP who deemed Rakhimov “the classic Uzbek gangster,” and noted that “you don’t get to be an Uzbek gangster without being a partner of powerful people in the state apparatus.”

    Or, as Mark Galeotti so elegantly put it, “whatever you say about Russian OC, it’s outgunned by the state.”

    It is Rakhimov’s very involvement in the upper echelons of organized crime that would provide him with access to the upper echelons of administrative power in his country.

    It should be noted here that Rakhimov protests his innocence, and vigorously, but this, in a sense, misses the point. It is unfair that Rakhimov’s being accused of unproven criminality by the United States government, Mark Galeotti and the OCCRP, among others, should exclude him from working for the AIBA – but it should. Unquestionably and inarguably, it should. It should absolutely exclude him from running that organization. He could be the most effective administrator to have ever lived and the fact would remain that his overall influence upon the sport he claims to love would be almost entirely negative. But his protestations of his innocence must be recorded.

    In his own words, his inclusion as a U.S. Treasury target is a “mistake” that he hopes can be “corrected” within six months.

    But he’s had six years.

    Rakhimov has declared the date of his own election “a great day for the AIBA” and “an important step forward in boxing.” He spoke of the AIBA’s “commitment to the Olympic movement and Olympic values." The IOC, meanwhile, are rumored to be weighing three options: excluding boxing from the Olympic games; staging an Olympic tournament without the inclusion of the AIBA (thereby withdrawing funding); or allowing the AIBA to run the Olympic boxing tournament under certain agreed-upon conditions.

    None of these options are appealing, but I regretfully suggest that the third of these is the most harmful. While excluding boxing would deal a hammer blow to the sport that would be felt for a generation and the damage done to grassroots boxing by cutting off funding to the AIBA by the IOC would be enormous, either arrangement is likely preferable to doing nothing.

    If there is a line of corruption our sport cannot be allowed to cross, I would suggest that it was reached and breached today. It saddens and shocks me that this has occurred in the world of amateur rather than professional boxing.
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