The fact that the world governing body for amateur boxing believes it can sanction Michael Conlan for his f-bomb-laden rant provides a comical insight into the delusions of grandeur rife amongst its suits. The tethers are now cut. AIBA and its president Wu Ching-kuo are in orbit.
When Conlan flipped the birds at the ringside judges following last Tuesday's scandalous defeat to Russia's Vladimir Nikitn, it amounted to more than sheer frustration and heartbreak; the Belfast man was definitively washing his hands of an organisation that had taken from him a dream he had religiously trained towards for 12 years. He was out. More of a 'fuck you' than a 'thanks for the cheese'.
The immediacy with which Conlan's Olympic flame was quelled churned stomachs throughout the pugilistic world, this less than 24 hours removed from an even more disgusting decision involving another Russian fighter.
The question on Tuesday morning was whether or not AIBA and its judges would be brazen enough to take the Mick once more. We should never have doubted it.
Irish Boxing Should Be On Red Alert For More Judging Bullshit As Conlan Fights Russian https://t.co/4WrLKPO8R8
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) August 16, 2016
And yet, for all the ghoulery of what transpired after Conlan conspicuously outclassed Nikitin, it speaks to the sheer arrogance of the AIBA that it wasn't expecting such weighted and vitriolic backlash. This wasn't some Olympic qualifier in the back-arse of Azerbaijan. This was the big stage, the real deal, and frankly they chose the wrong fighter from the wrong nation to fuck over.
Within the space of two days last week, the AIBA managed to draw more public scrutiny upon itself than it had in the previous six Olympiads combined, which is quite the feat considering the shit-storm at London following a farcical fight between Satoshi Shimizu (Japan) and Magomed Abdulhamidov (Azerbaijan), and an alleged $9m bribe which the organisation would eventually describe as a loan from a Swiss company which “originated from an Azerbaijani investor.”
The fallout from last week forced AIBA into action, even if that action only amounted to a token reshuffle of staff and the supposed 'banishment' of officials, who in actual fact remained at the Games. Why the sudden requirement to act at all, though, after vehemently denying any wrongdoing following Michael Conlan's furious accusations? If nothing is broken, why the need to fix it? The answer is rather straightforwad: Conlan brought the heat, and the sporting world stood up and took notice.
Take this statement released by Canada Boxing on Friday, for example:
Following questionable decisions and alleged corruption claims occurring at the Rio 2016 Boxing competition, a global strategy is being put in place to ensure AIBA will address and correct the situation.
Boxing Canada strongly believes that the integrity of our sport and athletes must be protected while faced with injustice and we will not tolerate any unfair judgement. Although small measures have been taken by AIBA, combined efforts with our partners will continue until the integrity of boxing is restored and has reached a satisfactory level.
Integrity is a term that could hardly be deemed synonymous with amateur boxing's overlords, but Conlan and his fellow Olympic victims have, at the very least, reignited and mobilised an almost palpable distrust and disconnect between fighters, the media and AIBA. So much so that the Belfast man and his outburst are still a hot topic in Rio.
Earlier today, AIBA president Wu told Greg Beacham of the Associated Press:
He immediately showed his finger to the referee-judges. The IOC says this is totally unacceptable. You cannot humiliate people. They are officials. He put himself in a difficult position, I can tell you. A lot of disciplinary action will follow. You should show proper behavior.
If you are not happy about the result, you cannot humiliate in public our referee-judges. That has already drawn a lot of people's attention who want to punish him, so we are going to have a disciplinary commission for the case. ... You can go through the right channel to say, 'OK, may I have the chance to really review this bout?' We do have the ability to review. This bout particularly, with his behavior that drew a lot of attention, we wanted to review whether it's correct or not.... Judges have no intentions. Why do (you think) they hate your country? The judges, why do they want it in favor of this (country) over the other one? There's no reason.
This is what you're dealing with.
But, dodgy judging aside, why on Earth would any national boxing body, fighter or fan trust a man who has stood blindly by vice president Gafur Rakhimov, who was denied entry to Australia in 2000 when the Sydney Morning Herald broke the news that he's a drug tsar, a mafia boss and a crime lord in Central Asia?
In 2012, the Associated Press stated Rakhimov was "one of the leaders of Uzbek organized crime with a speciality in the organized production of drugs in the countries of Central Asia."
He has operated major international drug syndicates involving the trafficking of heroin.
Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, spoke up about Rakhimov’s alleged criminal activities around that time. Murray told ABC News:
He is one of the four or five most important people in the heroin trade in the world. He’s absolutely a very major and dangerous gangster.
In 2012, the US Department of the Treasury put financial sanctions on Rakhimov and a number of his associates, accusing them of being part of the so-called 'Brothers' Circle' criminal organisation.
But say what you want about Rakhimov - at least he's had a positive impact on boxing in his native land.
In the interest of fairness, it must be pointed out that Uzbekistan do possess a number of truly talented boxers whose stylish, switch-hitting approaches lit up the ring, but you need look no further than Fazliddin Gaibnazarov's gold medal run - and his inconceivable decision wins over America's Gary Russell and Azerbaijan's Lorenzo Sotomayor - to realise something was rotten in the state of Rio.
But an organisation in which a man of Rakhimov's ilk can retain his position of vice president hardly screams transparency. Back in 2014, under criminal indictment in his native Uzbekistan, he confirmed to ABC News through a translator that he played a role in helping Russia win votes to host the 2014 Winter Olympics through his contacts in Central Asian Olympic circles. In retrospect, it further casts a shadow over a number of nonsensical boxing results involving Russian fighters in Rio.
— Michael Conlan (@mickconlan11) August 16, 2016
But how can the IOC tolerate this arse-chancery, you might ask? Frankly the IOC will do - if at all possible - less than nothing to rectify it. For one thing, AIBA president Wu Ching-kuo is a member of the IOC Executive Board, and has been a member since 1988. For another, Gafur Rakhimov is the vice president of the Olympic Council of Asia. And finally, they're the IOC.
The reported expulsion of judges and referees, however legitimate, might have seemed like prudent damage control when they were under fire last week, but it has done little other than furrow a few more brows within an already-sceptical boxing world which holds the organisation in contempt.
— Paddy Barnes OLY (@paddyb_ireland) August 22, 2016
It remains to be seen whether this summer will ultimately prove to be the straw which broke AIBA's back, but if these Olympic Games have taught us anything it's that when you get too big for your suit, chickens usually come home to roost.
If or when they do, Michael Conlan can gratuitously raise his middle finger once more, safe in the knowledge that the belt on his mantelpiece and the seven-figure sum in his bank account don't fall under the AIBA's jurisdiction.
An hour after publishing this article, I was sent this video via an anonymous email. It's all very Mr. Robot. The uploader's name is Karim Bouzidi - the same name as the AIBA's executive director who was "reassigned" following the Conlan debacle. Very clever.