Britain’s sports minister, Hugh Robertson, says the allegations show sport is in need of improved governance. Photograph: Sang Tan/AP
The BBC has promised to hand over its evidence to any International Olympic Committee investigation into allegations that amateur boxing‘s global governing body promised to deliver two gold medals to Azerbaijan at the London Olympics next year in return for millions of dollars.
The IOC has said that its ethics committee will consider the evidence before deciding whether to launch a full investigation into claims by two whistleblowers that World Series Boxing, an attempt by the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) to take on the professional circuit, accepted a $9m (Ā£5.85m) payment from Azerbaijan and guaranteed the medals in return. AIBA has denied the allegations.
The sports minister, Hugh Robertson, on Friday backed calls for a “full investigation” by AIBA into the “deeply disturbing” allegations and said the claims highlighted a wider need for improved governance in sport. “These allegations are deeply disturbing and run contrary to everything the Olympic movement stands for,” Robertson said. “We therefore support the international federation in conducting a full investigation which should be independent and transparent.
“Once again this highlights the need for improved governance in sport both internationally and domestically and this is something we will pursue, not least through my membership of the IOC president’s high-level panel on corruption inĀ sport.”
AIBA’s president, Dr Wu Ching-kuo, has confirmed that the investment was made by an Azeri national into four US franchises on the WSB tour. But he said the claims that medals had been guaranteed in return were “ludicrous”, “totally untrue” and “totally impossible”.
However, Wu also promised to launch a full investigation and said he would fire the individual responsible if the claims were proved.
The IOC, whose president, Jacques Rogge, has been vocal on the fight against corruption in sport, has asked the BBC to hand over any relevant evidence. “We welcome AIBA’s announcement of an immediate inquiry into these claims and we await the outcome of their investigation,” he said. “For its part, the IOC takes all allegations of corruption very seriously. We would urge the BBC to make any evidence they have available to AIBA and to our ethics commission which will then determine if further action is necessary.”
The AIBA and WSB said in a statement they believed the allegations had been “made by individuals with an axe to grind, who are totally discredited”. AIBA and WSB added: “As well as unjustifiably imputing corruption to AIBA/WSB, they demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the procedures which lead to the award of Olympic boxing medals and the impossibility of influencing these.”
This month Wu, who is also chairman of WSB, listed the “private Swiss company invested in by an Azerbaijani investor” among the franchise owners he would like to thank for investing in the scheme. AIBA claim that the money was routed through the Azerbaijani government to preserve their anonymity.
The BBC said whistleblowers claimed the money was promised in return for two gold medals by the WSB’s chief operating officer, Ivan Khodabakhsh.
Khodabakhsh said: “First of all no comment, second of all, it’s an absolute lie.”
A spokesperson for the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE), which is affiliated to AIBA, said: “We are surprised by the allegations. We support AIBA’s zero tolerance position on corruption and its decision to hold an investigation.”
The British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA), which manages the elite GB Boxing programme for the Olympic Games, has currently competitors at the World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. AIBA is also holding its extraordinary general assembly this weekend.
“Our boxers and coaches are focused solely on competing at the World Championships and will not allow this issue to distract their preparations,” said a spokesman. “The squad has performed very well in competitions in 2011 and aims to continue its excellent run.”
The ABAE has been trying to improve relations with AIBA since Paul King, its previous chief executive, failed in a bid to unseat Wu as president of the global body.
Team GB’s head coach, Rob McCracken, was subsequently banned from the corner after AIBA introduced a new rule banning anyone who also coached professionals from the ring.
There was also disappointment that plans for a London franchise in the AIBA’s WSB were scrapped in 2009. The WSB suffered a blow when one of its principal backers, the sports marketing giant IMG, withdrew this week. But an ABAE spokesman said relations had improved since the new chief executive, Mark Abberley, was appointed.
The promoter Frank Warren urged caution over the allegations, insisting the programme had failed to come up with proof that the Olympic event was set to be rigged. “From what I have seen on the programme ā¦ it was an unknown source, so where is the proof?” Warren told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“And I don’t understand what the end result was. You pay $10m for two gold medals to make Azerbaijan the world capital of boxing? If someone said: ‘Here is the proof,’ then let’s see it. The programme didn’t show that. Where was the money? Where did the money change hands?
“It could be some idiot coming out with this thing, it doesn’t mean it’s actually happening. Where does it say someone is sponsoring this competition? Where does it say it’s going to guarantee two gold medals?”