Senior figures within amateur boxing have warned many bouts, including those to decide medals, could be fixed at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro amid widespread concern about corruption and financial malpractice at the sport’s global governing body, the Guardian can reveal.
Horrified senior officials within the sport believe a cabal of officials are able to use their power to manipulate the draw and the judging system to ensure certain boxers will win.
One senior figure said there was “no doubt” some of the judges and referees in Rio “will be corrupted”. He alleged a group of referees get together before major championships to decide how to score certain bouts.
Almost every recent Olympics has featured controversy. Most infamously, at the 1988 Games in Seoul the home favourite Park Si-hun beat the American Roy Jones Jr in a light middleweight contest the judging of which became a byword for scandal.
The Romanian former International Boxing Association (AIBA) vice-president Rudel Obreja alleged manipulation of the judges’ draw at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. This week he alleged to the Guardian that he was forced out of the governing body as a result.
Before the London 2012 Games, it was alleged by the BBC that Azerbaijan, which loaned $10m to AIBA to underwrite a professional boxing series that has not been repaid, had effectively bought medals. A thorough AIBA investigation by senior officials rejected the allegations.
An AIBA spokesman this week told the Guardian: “Since June 2015, AIBA has undertaken major governance changes ensuring the long-term development of our sport according to the requirements of our business and sport partners and for the benefits of the AIBA worldwide community.”
But the senior officials who have spoken to the Guardian, who wish to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against them or boxers from their country, have said the alleged corruption has become more sophisticated and more widespread since the London Games.
It is alleged corrupt officials, directed to score bouts in a certain way for a variety of reasons, are said to have initially relied on hand or head signals to manipulate judges at the end of each round so they knew from which corner to select the winner. But after being challenged at a number of major championships they are said to have changed their system, no longer relying on signals but meeting before major championships to decide on certain bouts.
“This is all being done very quietly,” said one senior source. “Some bouts are so bloody blatant it’s obvious. It sickens me to my stomach.”
A spokesman for AIBA said its mission was “to ensure the organisation of fair and transparent competitions”. He added: “It is not a matter for AIBA to interfere with the decision made by the judges under sporting rules.”
AIBA said there were approximately 300 judges rated three star and above who were used at elite competitions on a regular basis. It said its certification system ensured all referees and judges “have the highest levels of officiating and are in an optimal situation to perform accordingly”.
Sources alleged that at major championships the draw commission was also being directed as to which judges should officiate each bout.
AIBA says the draw is operated externally by Swiss Timing, their official scoring partner. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Swiss Timing.
In some championships, sources claimed that around half of the bouts could be predetermined.
One boxing judge who was prepared to go on the record, Ireland’s Seamus Kelly, told the Guardian he had been asked to cheat at the Arab Games in Doha in 2011 by indicating who was winning during the fight.
He claimed a fellow judge had confided there were signals used under the new, so-called “10-9” scoring system at the European Championships in Minsk in 2013.
Kelly emailed Dr CK Wu, the sometimes controversial AIBA president, in April 2015 to raise the alarm.
Dr Wu replied: “AIBA will immediately investigate this case. We are zero tolerance for this kind of cheating judges.” Kelly heard nothing further and believes he has been sidelined.
“It was mental abuse. I wasn’t sleeping at all because of the way they made me feel. It put an X against my name. They were pushing me away,” Kelly said.
“People are afraid to speak out because if they are judges they will be sidelined and won’t get to go to the Olympics or other championships. If they are officials, they fear their country’s boxers will be targeted.”