TOKYO — The International Olympic Committee wants boxing to be held at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That much we know.
But IOC President Thomas Bach could not give an ironclad promise on Saturday that it will happen when the Olympics open in just over 20 months.
“We want to have the boxing tournament in the games in Tokyo and we will make all efforts to have it,” said Bach, who was asked several times about it on Saturday as the IOC closed two days of meetings in the Japanese capital.
Accusations of corruption and malfeasance surrounding the boxing federation that runs the sport at the Olympics have left the future of boxing up in the air.
The IOC on Friday initiated a formal inquiry into AIBA — an acronym for the International Boxing Association — and has given itself six months to work behind the scenes to solve a problem it’s been facing for a year.
“We also have received a request from the national boxing federation of Japan, pleading to have an Olympic boxing tournament,” Bach added. “We’re absolutely in line with this request.”
Bach didn’t say it, but there is speculation the IOC could run the event, using AIBA judges and referees. It seems unlikely a new body would be created from the ground up.
Or the tournament might not be staged at all, which is a long shot.
IOC member Nenad Lalovic of Serbia is heading the inquiry, a strong Bach ally and president of United World Wrestling — the Olympic wresting body.
IOC sports director Kit McConnell said the inquiry into AIBA was unprecedented.
“I’m not sure it’s one that has ever been done in any other circumstance,” McConnell said. “We’ve been trying to find a solution to this throughout the course of 2018.”
A major problem is Gafur Rakhimov of Uzbekistan, who was elected president of the body on Nov. 3 despite being on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list. He has replaced C.K. Wu as president, an IOC member who was forced out as AIBA president with the body facing bankruptcy.
Rakhimov denies alleged links to organized crime networks and the international drug trade. The long-time AIBA executive committee member was prevented from attending the 2000 Sydney Olympics and 2012 London Olympics by Australian and British government authorities.
The American federal sanctions bar U.S. citizens and companies from doing business with him.
In a statement Friday, the IOC said it was investigating AIBA’s finances, governance, ethics, anti-doping, and refereeing and judging, which was repeatedly questioned at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The IOC said it “understands the AIBA is unable to maintain or open a bank account in Switzerland, where its headquarters are based.”
The IOC has said the inquiry could lead to the “withdrawal of recognition” for AIBA, which can only take place in June at the next full congress of the IOC. The Tokyo Olympics open on July 24, 2020.
Left in the lurch are the athletes, which the IOC says it always seeks to protect.
“Any situation that involves the athletes and a sport like this is not a comfortable one for any of us to be in,” said McConnell, who urged athletes “to carry on” training while the IOC seeks a solution.
McConnell rejected a suggestion the IOC was simply buying time to dig itself out of a mess.
“I really don’t see it as kicking the can down the road,” he said.
Tokyo organizers are also stuck, though they will also keep working behind the scenes to prepare the venue.
During the IOC-appointed inquiry, the Tokyo Olympic boxing program will be frozen: No tickets will be sold, no test event held and no qualifying format approved. The IOC had previously suspended payments to AIBA from Olympic revenues.
Tokyo plans to hold boxing in the Kokugikan, the storied sumo hall in east Tokyo — a venue perfectly suited to boxing.
Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the Tokyo organizing committee, chose his words carefully.
“I would like to believe what the IOC said,” Muto told reporters on Saturday, adding the need to eliminate negative factors without being specific.
The focus on boxing corruption comes a few days after IOC member Sheikh Ahmad of Kuwait stepped aside temporarily from the presidency of the Olympic umbrella group ANOC to defend himself in a criminal case in Switzerland.
He also stepped aside temporarily from his 26-year membership in the IOC and has denied any wrongdoing.
Bach repeated again that the games are about the athletes, not sports administrators.
“We do not want athletes to suffer from the misbehavior of officials or people to which they are not related,” Bach said.