POSTED: March 16th 2018

NEIL WILSON: The Russians Accused Of An Olympic Fix

Irish boxer Michael Conlon © Getty Images
Irish boxer Michael Conlon © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) So the Russians are at it again. No, not in the medieval English city of Salisbury where fingers point to them poisoning two of their citizens. This is in the boxing ring in Rio.

Remember how at the Olympics in Rio world champion bantamweight Michael Conlon from Ireland accused the sport of corruption after he lost the verdict after a bout with Russian Vladimir Nikitin?

His words may jog your memory. "Amateur boxing stinks from the core to the top," he said in a ringside interview with Irish television reported around the world. "AIBA (boxing's world body) cheats." 

The Irish Times has seen an official report written by the Ireland boxing team manager Joe Hannigan, now vice-president of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, in which he reveals that the Irish team knew in advance that Conlon was fated to lose.

 Their coach, Zauri Antia, a Russian-speaking Georgian, had been told on the eve of the fight by a Russian coach. A fix was in. Antia was also told that other medals had been decided in advance. 

Conlan's loss on an unanimous decision by Brazilian, Polish and Sri Lankan judges was outrageous, as I saw for myself while reporting the bout for one of the Irish Times' rival newspapers. It was not an isolated incident. The previous evening a Russian had been given the verdict over a Kazakhstani so blatantly wrong that the neutral crowd booed the Russian out of the ring. 

No protest against judges' verdicts are allowed under Olympic boxing rules but what makes this worse is that Hennigan claims to have made "numerous attempts"  before Conlan's bout to warn IOC executive board member Patrick Hickey, then president of the Olympic Council of Ireland. "He was never available," says his report. 

AIBA dismissed Conlan's outburst as the sour grapes of a loser but three months later all 36 judges in Rio were suspended pending an investigation. A report of that inquiry has been rejected by the IOC.  Its president Thomas Bach said last month that his executive was not satisfied and demanded a fuller version by the end of April. 

The future of boxing as an Olympic sport may hang on it, just as the wider involvement of Russia in the world sport may be. Track and field's world body, the IAAF, has refused to lift the suspension of the Russians and talked of its federation's expulsion. WADA, the world anti-doping agency, has refused to agree that the country is in compliance with its rules. 

And this happens against the background of football's World Cup happening in Russia this summer, a World Cup hosting that many believe was secured through bribes and backhanders.

FIFA's world authority FIFA made a token attempt to investigate those fears but its lawyer was refused a visa by Russia which claimed that all emails related to its bid had been lost when its computer system was returned to the rental company.

The IOC has shown little appetite for confrontation with Russia. Its suspension for its state-sponsored doping programme during the Sochi Olympics lasted weeks while individual athletes caught doping are banned for years.

No evidence, the Russians shout at every new allegation, whether from Salisbury or Dublin. But taken together bribery, doping and match-fixing make a case that even the weakest of sporting authorities cannot ignore.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

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