The idea of fixed fights in boxing isn’t anything new to the sport. Perhaps more so than almost any other athletic contest, Boxing has built a decades long reputation for suspect judging, officiating, and even the occasional straight up dive. It’s one of the few sports that has an entire class of athlete known as ‘professional opponents’. Men and women booked to fight with no expectation of winning, whatsoever—brought in to provide experience and singular challenges to rising prospects as they build their records towards high money fights.
That said, the Olympics is hardly a place where fans should expect to see fighters booked in bouts they can’t win. But, that seems to be what we saw in 2016, with an investigation instigated by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) concluding that somewhere “in the vicinity of 11 – perhaps less, and that’s counting the ones that we know were manipulated – problem bouts or suspicious bouts,” took place at the 2016 games, including fights that resulted in Olympic medals awarded.
The news was announced by lead investigator Richard McLaren in a press conference from Lausanne, Switzerland on September 30th. In it, McLaren noted a the presence of a “culture of fear, intimidation and obedience in the ranks of the referees and judges” appointed by the AIBA to oversee Olympic boxing matches. ABC News reported the details.
“Key personnel decided that the rules did not apply to them,” said McLaren, who added there was a “culture of fear, intimidation and obedience in the ranks of the referees and judges.”
“This informal structure allowed complicit and compliant referees and judges ... to be assigned to specific bouts to ensure the manipulation of outcomes,” McLaren continued, noting that referees and judges were selected to either provide specific outcomes for the bouts, or for their general incompetence in recognize signs of match fixing.
“AIBA hired Professor McLaren because we have nothing to hide,” Russian businessman Umar Kremlev, who oversees the current operation of the AIBA, said of the news. “We will work to incorporate any helpful recommendations that are made. We will also take legal advice with regard to what action is possible against those found to have participated in any manipulation. There should be no place in the AIBA family for anyone who has fixed a fight.”
McLaren pointed specifically to a bout between a boxer from Mongolia and a boxer from France where witnesses allege that an official asked for a bribe of $250,000, to tilt the match in favor of the Mongolian athlete. That money apparently wasn’t paid and, as a result, judges turned in unusual, matching score cards for the fighter from France instead.
ABC also reports that this match fixing scandal may extend back to the 2012 Olympic games as well, with evidence that former AIBA president CK Wu instructed the organization’s executive director to ensure that Turkish boxers qualified for the games, since the nation had held an expensive qualifying competition for the organization. Wu also reportedly instructed officials to keep fighters from Azerbaijan from winning medals in the London Olympics, following the publication of a BBC report showing a large loan from an Azerbaijani company to the AIBA.
With a string of complaints about AIBA officiating in the past, the IOC took over the organizing and administrating of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics boxing events. McLaren’s investigation is now expected to expand to other, past AIBA tournaments outside of the Olympics to see how far back and widespread this culture of fight fixing may stretch.