Controversy has for years plagued the boxing federation, which is known by the acronym A.I.B.A. Then last month, a man the United States Treasury Department has described as “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals” won the A.I.B.A. presidency and took control of the world governing body.
That man, Gafur Rakhimov, a Russian citizen, had been A.I.B.A.’s interim leader after his predecessor, C. K. Wu, was forced out following a financial scandal that pushed the organization to the brink of bankruptcy. The scandal raised questions — many still unanswered — regarding the whereabouts of millions of dollars of A.I.B.A. revenue.
To his supporters, Rakhimov is seen as the federation’s savior because of deals he cut with A.I.B.A. creditors. To the I.O.C., his appointment is the latest misstep by an organization that has lurched from crisis to crisis, including questions about the fairness of boxing judges and A.I.B.A.’s antidoping measures.
The I.O.C. ordered the federation earlier this year to produce a report outlining plans to resolve some longstanding issues. People familiar with the I.O.C.’s thinking say the A.I.B.A. has little hope for a reprieve. The I.O.C. is already planning ways to preserve boxing’s place in Tokyo.
It would take “something earth shattering” for A.I.B.A. not to be thrown out, said a person with knowledge of the discussions who declined to be identified because those talks are continuing. For its part, boxing federation has accused the I.O.C. of double standards, pointing out that the organization has not dealt with a number of its members facing accusations of wrongdoing and is meddling in the internal workings of a sports federation.
Rakhimov is fighting to clear his name with the Treasury Department, which in December accused him of “providing material support” to the Thieves-in-Law, an international crime syndicate centered on the former Soviet Union. Rakhimov denies the allegations, saying they are linked to politically motivated charges, now dropped, by members of the former government in Uzbekistan.
In a statement emailed through a media adviser, Rakhimov said: “ I have never been involved in any transnational criminal organizations or any other criminal activities. I have never been convicted or charged with any crime.”
The Treasury Department’s designation creates major operational challenges for Rakhimov and a problem for an Olympic movement that is battling to restore its own damaged reputation amid the yearslong Russian doping scandal and a dearth of cities that want to host the Winter Games.
“The I.O.C. has made it clear from the outset that there are issues of grave concern with A.I.B.A. regarding judging, finance and the antidoping program, and with governance — which includes but is not limited to the election of the A.I.B.A. president,” the I.O.C. spokesman Mark Adams said in a statement.
“Whatever the results of the deliberations of the I.O.C. executive board, we will continue to make all efforts to protect the athletes and to have a boxing tournament at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” Adams continued. The I.O.C. has frozen all contact with A.I.B.A., except those necessary to carry out I.O.C. decisions.
In his emailed comments, Rakhimov repeated an offer to temporarily step down, but only “if the I.O.C. and A.I.B.A. are communicating at the decision-making level.”
“In fact,” he added via email, “I believe we will be able to re-establish a good relationship with the I.O.C., which will include Tokyo 2020 and any future Olympic Games.”
Gafur Rakhimov, the controversy-plagued president of the federation.CreditPavel Golovkin/Associated Press
Tom Virgets, an American who was appointed executive director of A.I.B.A. by Rakhimov earlier this year, said the boxing federation had made great strides in making changes to its governance structure. Without Rakhimov’s ability to make deals with creditors, the organization probably would have already had to shut its doors, he said.
A Chinese company, F.C.I.T., has effectively written off a $19 million investment in A.I.B.A. It has committed an additional $1 million a year for the rights to market and promote A.I.B.A. events for the next 20 years. Wu Di, an executive with F.C.I.T., was recently added to A.I.B.A.’s decision-making executive committee. Two other spots are available for officials from companies who would be willing to commit a minimum $10 million each, according to A.I.B.A.’s regulations.
Virgets, who had been a senior associate athletic director at the United States Naval Academy, acknowledged that Rakhimov’s notoriety presented problems.
“Is this the best person to run A.I.B.A.? Obviously not because they have some level of controversy,” Virgets said. “It would be much better if he wasn’t on that list, and it would be much better if we had someone with his skill-set who could manage this crisis for A.I.B.A. But quite frankly, I haven’t seen that individual who could manage this crisis.”
The Treasury Department’s designation accuses Rakhimov of collaborating with the Thieves-in-Law organization on business, arranging meetings and warning it of law enforcement issues. “Rakhimov has been described as having moved from extortion and car theft to becoming one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals and an important person involved in the heroin trade,” the department said in a statement.
That makes him toxic for businesses and individuals with links to the United States, including those dealing with A.I.B.A. Switzerland’s Vaud Cantonal Bank said it could no longer work with the boxing federation. A.I.B.A. then took its banking operations to Serbia. The I.O.C. did not let Rakhimov, who is based in Dubai, attend the Youth Olympics last month. The British authorities blocked him from attending the 2012 Olympics in London, and he was also denied a visa for the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Rakhimov’s Moscow-based lawyer, Yuri Kuznetsov, has spent years trying to clear his client’s name. He has tried to persuade the authorities in Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and even Interpol to show the I.O.C. that Rakhimov is no longer a fugitive.
Kuznetsov, during an interview in London last month, conceded that Rakhimov had to deal with unsavory characters after the fall of the Soviet Union, when he made his fortune importing foodstuffs.
“Of course he was not planning to rob a bank, he was not planning to make a crime, he had to meet with these people because they were controlling business,” he said.
Pat Fiacco, a Canadian appointed to A.I.B.A.’s executive committee by Rakhimov, said the I.O.C.’s treatment of Rakhimov was starting to feel like a violation of his human rights. He said even as the I.O.C. had been critical of Rakhimov, it had failed to police its own members who face accusations of wrongdoing.
Those include the vice chairman of the I.O.C. commission overseeing the 2020 Olympics, who is accused of sexual harassment in Israel, and a Kuwaiti sheikh identified as an unindicted co-conspirator by the United States Justice Department in a sports-corruption case last year.
Wu, who resigned as A.I.B.A. president last year amid accusations — that he denies — of financial mismanagement, remains an I.O.C. member. Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah stepped down temporarily Monday from the I.O.C. amid allegations by Swiss prosecutors of forgery.
At the Youth Olympics in Argentina last month, the I.O.C. hired the accounting firm PwC to oversee the judging at the boxing event after previous tournaments were mired by accusations of rigged decisions. Virgets said steps had been taken to address those challenges and deal with 38 doping cases dating to 2010 that had not been tackled by the previous leadership.
Documentation of the corrective measures taken by A.I.B.A. and a file with letters exonerating Rakhimov from the authorities in Russia and Uzbekistan has been sent to the I.O.C., Virgets said.
“I’d be the first person here to say, ‘If you can show evidence that Gafur Rakhimov is guilty, don’t just remove him from A.I.B.A., but put him in jail,’ ” Virgets said.