Olympic Boxing Corruption
Wow! Following a number of scandals in scoring and Olympic boxing corruption, Olympic Boxing may be off the table for the 2028 Olympics. Olympic Boxing has had it’s share of controversies. One of the more memorable stories was in 2016, when Michael Conlan famously flipped the double-bird at the Olympic judges after being robbed (timestamp: 4:25).
On September 30, 2021, investigator Richard McLaren, who also investigated the Russian doping scandal, put out this report which found widespread “corruption, bribery, and the manipulation or sporting results.” (Section 1.4, page 7). This report highlighted a number of corrupt incidences, including the Michael Conlan – Vladimir Nikitin fight. The results of these findings put boxing at risk of not being included in the 2028 Olympics, as they were left off the initial list of sports by the IOC (International Olympic Committee).
A $250,000 Bribe: Sofiane Oumiha (FRA) vs Otgondalai Dorjnyambuu (MGL)
There were quite a few stories of Olympic Boxing corruption here, but I’ll highlight the story of the fight between Sofiane Oumiha (FRA) and Otgondalai Dorjnyambuu (MGL) on August 14, 2016. You may recall Oumiha as the 2016 silver medalist that Keyshawn Davis beat en route to his 2020 Olympic final fight. This was the 2016 Olympic semi-final, which earned Oumiha the right to fight Robson Conceicao in the final.
There were some different stories on who initiated the bribery attempt (either the referee Rakhymzhan Rysbayev or the Mongolian Boxing Federation), but there was a bribe somewhere in the range of $100,000 – $250,000 to pay for the Mongolian victory. The report states the following:
The bribery approach generally unfolded as follows. At some point prior to the semi-final bout, a threat was made by the 5 star Rysbaev to the Mongolian Federation. According to Mongolian Federation’s team delegate he understood that the R&J “get[s] the money. If not, then your boxer loses. Before [the fight] they said that: Your boxer loses. If [you] don’t give the money, then your boxer loses.” The bribe amount, to which the witnesses had differing recollections, which was somewhere in between US$100,000 to US$250,000, had to be paid in cash to Rysbayev prior to the start of the semi-final bout if they wanted their boxer to proceed to the next round. The witness from the Mongolian Federation went on to say that if they did not pay, then Rysbayev threatened to make sure that he, Khishgee (the Mongolian 3 star R&J) and the entire Mongolian boxing team would be sent back to Mongolia.Independent Investigation of the AIBA Boxing Competitions Prior to and During the Rio Olympic Games 2016, September 30, 2021 – McLaren Global Sport Solutions
Bat Erdene, the President of the Mongolian Boxing Association, refused to pay the bribe. A Mongolian witness informed referee Rakhymzhan Rysbayev of their decision, to which he responded angrily that “he’s flying home.” This call was recorded and later submitted to the McLaren Independent Investigation Team.
Ultimately, Oumiha won a 5-0 decision in the semi-final, with all judges turning in identical scorecards of Oumiha winning the first two rounds, and losing the third. The fight is still up on the NBC’s Olympic site, and I reviewed the tape. I don’t have a problem with Oumiha winning as it was a close fight. If I had to nitpick, I would have thought the first round would be split, as you could argue that Dorjnyambuu won that round.
This wasn’t the most egregious decision, but I chose this story as it was a bribe of the highest dollar amount. It should be noted that Rsybaev was one of seven judges that was expelled from judging the Rio Olympic boxing competitions. There are other stories of contentious bouts [i.e. Butdee (THA) vs Nikitin (RUS), Conlan (IRE) vs Nikitin (RUS)] and other stories of bribery attempts throughout the report. It also documents the conflict of interest behind the hosting countries of World Championships and the countries funding the AIBA (i.e. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan giving $10M loans) and how “corruptible judges” are selected throughout Olympic qualification events. You can read more here.
The Path back to the 2028 Olympics
The AIBA (Amateur Internationale de Boxe Amateur) has made a number of changes to try to be reinstated into the Olympics. They will have to implement new forms of administration and fight for reinstatement at the IOC session in 2023, when the 2028 program will be finalized. They have made some new changes, such as the following:
- Elected Umar Kremlev as AIBA President on 12/12/2020
- Created five new committees to ensure no Olympic Boxing corruption
- Rebranded as the IBA (International Boxing Association)
We’ll have to see what happens in the next 2 years to see if boxing will be allowed again in the Olympics. Michael Conlan has taken to Twitter since the report came out, and the IBA (formerly AIBA) doesn’t seem to hide from the fact that the previous leadership did plenty of wrong:
Impact on Amateur Boxing
I’ve seen a number of amateur fighters decide to turn pro over going for the Olympics for the sentiments of Olympic boxing corruption noted above. Removing headgear was another unpopular decision that made fighters want to get paid (i.e. turn pro) for any competition without headgear as well. But representing your home country and bringing home a Gold medal is still prestigious and many athletes will postpone their professional career to do so. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the 14-year old today. They’ll be too young for the 2024 Olympics and this news may change their timeline for turning pro.
Another factor to consider is the declining viewership of the Olympics in general – NBC’s overall TV audience for the Tokyo Games is down an average of ~45% from the Rio Games in 2016. If it weren’t for Lucas Ketelle’s detailed coverage of the 2020 Boxing Olympics, I don’t think I would have known much about any of the fighters other than my countrymen Carlo Paalam, Nesthy Peticio, Irish Magno, and Eumir Marcial. I would expect the low Olympic Boxing viewership would encourage amateur boxers to turn pro earlier as well.
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About the Author:
Coach Ian is an ultra-marathon runner and a volunteer coach at the non-profit boxing organization, Dreamland Boxing, in San Jose, CA. He competed in boxing for both Dreamland and collegiately at UCLA. His goal is to empower all to be the best that they can be, in boxing and in life. You can find Coach Ian on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.