With boxing in danger of being excluded from the Olympics, a one-time Olympic silver medalist from Kazakhstan is vowing to save his sport if he wins an uphill battle to become president of the global boxing association.
Serik Konakbaev is viewed as the underdog candidate in an election for president of the amateur boxing association, the AIBA, on November 2, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having warned last month that the outcome of the election could determine whether boxing is included in the 2020 Olympics.
The IOC, expressing concerns about "the reputation of AIBA and boxing," suggested that it might refuse to recognize the AIBA if the current interim president, Gafur Rakhimov, who is the front-runner in the election, wins.
The IOC pointed out that Rakhimov, an Uzbek businessman, is on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list for allegedly having ties to organized crime and international heroin trafficking. He has denied any wrongdoing.
"If he wins, the IOC will take a tough decision which won't make us happy," Konakbaev told the Associated Press on November 1. "We could lose participation as an Olympic sport in the Olympic games in Tokyo. That's the scariest thing, and we should all think about that."
Konakbaev, 59, held back from personally criticizing Rakhimov, saying he was merely relaying the IOC's concerns.
"Mr. Rakhimov has been in AIBA for a long time. He loves boxing and Mr. Rakhimov wants to make boxing better," he told AP. But he added: "I think that the doubts which the IOC has expressed are not groundless, so as an organization, we need to take it all seriously and be ready to avoid these consequences."
The IOC did not let Rakhimov attend the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires last month.
Konakbaev, a former politician in Kazakhstan and an AIBA vice president who is amateur boxing's top official in Asia, told AP that the sport is "sliding backwards" and losing viewers to mixed martial arts.
Since Konakbaev won second place for the Soviet Union in the welterweight division in the 1980 Olympics, "we've lost the spice and popularity of boxing," he said.
Also dogging the sport has been frequent judging controversies, with the controversy reaching a peak at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The crowd in Rio booed Russia's Yevgeny Tishchenko after he won a gold medal by a unanimous decision over Kazakhstan's Vasily Levit, despite Levit appearing the more aggressive fighter.
Irish bantamweight Michael Conlan also profanely objected to a quarterfinal loss to Russia's Vladimir Nikitin, and accused the AIBA and Russia of corruption.
But particularly concerning to the IOC was a judging scandal that broke out at the Rio Olympics that led to 36 AIBA officials and referees being suspended while allegations of bout-fixing were investigated.
Konakbaev told AP he was in Rio with IOC President Thomas Bach and "saw his concern and disappointment. I don't think that makes our sport look good."
Konakbaev said he was cautious about his chances of beating Rakhimov in the AIBA election, which will be held in Moscow. Konakbaev was initially excluded from the ballot and was only allowed to run after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled on October 30 that his nomination was valid.
"Each candidate, when he goes to the vote, is always focused on victory," he told AP. "As a former boxer, I'm focused only on winning."