Liam Morgan

Bulgarian Emilia Grueva is not your typical International Boxing Association (AIBA) official.

For a start, Grueva operates in a predominantly male world and is one of just four female members on the 26-strong AIBA Executive Committee.

While plenty of these members hide and are part of the ruling body in name only, the Bulgarian has chosen a rather different path.

In a wide-ranging interview with insidethegames, the Bulgarian Boxing Federation vice-president was not afraid to stick her head above the parapet and provided a candid assessment on how AIBA has found itself in an unprecedented crisis.

Honesty is a trait few have exhibited during AIBA's well-documented troubles, exacerbated by, but not limited to, Gafur Rakhimov’s election as President last November.

Led by Rakhimov himself, the AIBA leadership consistently claimed that all was well and that the organisation was as healthy as it had ever been. Move along, nothing to see here.

As many of us knew – including a small set of Executive Committee members who saw which way the wind was blowing – that could not have been further from the truth.

Gafur Rakhimov ignored warnings from the IOC before he was elected AIBA President last November ©AIBA
Gafur Rakhimov ignored warnings from the IOC before he was elected AIBA President last November ©AIBA

Grueva is one of those who understands, and has long understood, the extent of the peril faced by the embattled governing body. “It is extremely serious," she said, when asked to give an overall assessment of the current situation.

"AIBA's reputation is even more tarnished now than after AIBA was suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). No sponsor is likely to trust or support AIBA as long as the governance issues have not been resolved.

"I think everyone in the AIBA family now realises that we elected the wrong President last year. By wilfully accepting the strategy of the previous President and his associates – which was to ignore the IOC and its concerns about the crisis at AIBA – we have ended up in a situation where we have no money, an absence of good leadership and an AIBA family that is divided and lost."

The IOC's issues with Rakhimov, listed as "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals" by the United States Treasury Department but who denies allegations of heroin trafficking, were made clear from the get-go.

These problems saw the IOC directly warn Rakhimov that standing for President would put the AIBA, and Olympic boxing, in grave danger – warnings defiantly ignored by the Uzbek.

Some might claim - with a degree of validity - that the IOC was looking for an excuse to punish AIBA for the way it treated one of its own in former President Ching-Kuo Wu. Others feel the IOC overstepped its mark with direct interference in the running of an International Federation.

Emilia Grueva is campaigning for change at AIBA ©AIBA
Emilia Grueva is campaigning for change at AIBA ©AIBA

It is hard to escape the view that this undue influence is continuing. The rumour mill has been spinning wildly with claims the IOC has asked the entire AIBA Executive Committee to resign, which would force the capable, competent officials to leave the organisation for good.

"We cannot penalise all the committed people who work hard for the good of the sport of boxing, just because of some bad apples," Grueva says.

"Also, people and the IOC should be careful to evaluate the long-serving Executive Committee members who have made no concrete faults.

"There are a lot of rumours, but the Executive Committee has been kept in the dark about the details of what was discussed by the Interim President with IOC representatives.

"I cannot believe that the IOC want to go against the Olympic Charter by interfering in the autonomy of International Federations. This autonomy is one of the "sacred pillars" of the Charter after all.

"What I do know, from public statements by the IOC at the recent IOC Session, is that they expect AIBA to accept their past mistakes and to undertake serious reform. Only then our suspension will be lifted."

As it stands, AIBA may not even exist by the time the IOC considers AIBA's status as the Olympic governing body for the sport after the conclusion of Tokyo 2020.

AIBA's financial situation is only getting worse, while Mohamed Moustahsane’s sudden resignation as Interim President earlier this month – which some believe was long overdue given his role in the Rio 2016 judging scandal – means AIBA is looking for its third President in just nine months.

An Extraordinary Congress to elect Rakhimov's permanent successor is in jeopardy owing to a contribution of ineptitude and financial difficulties, while a proposal is on the table to delay the vote until beyond March 29 2020, the final date the election can be held under AIBA statutes.

Sections of the Executive Committee have been lobbying for two separate Congresses – one to change the statutes to allow a new President to be elected later than the March 29 deadline, and one to vote in Rakhimov’s replacement – which has only added to the confusion and uncertainty surrounding AIBA.

The AIBA Executive Committee will hold its latest crucial meeting this weekend ©AIBA
The AIBA Executive Committee will hold its latest crucial meeting this weekend ©AIBA

These topics will be high on the agenda when the Executive Committee meets in Istanbul on Saturday (August 31), an event being paid for by the European Boxing Confederation amid AIBA's desperate financial situation.

"We will never survive until after Tokyo financially and from a governance point of view if we do not elect strong, competent leadership as soon as possible," Grueva said.

"We need a new leader, we need the money to save AIBA's finances, we need new statutes which will guide us to do serious reform and, finally, we need to restore our suspended right to organise Olympic boxing.

"Without the proper reform with new leadership, how can AIBA survive until after Tokyo 2020 without any funds?

"Only with a new leadership in place will we be able to undertake the deep, systemic reform for the benefit of the boxing movement around the world. Only when we have done this will we have a chance to be accepted back by the IOC and to organise the Olympic boxing tournaments in Paris 2024 and beyond.

"In addition, until new leadership and funds are available, what will AIBA have to do during this one-year period, nothing? This situation would greatly damage our sport even further."

On the proposal to delay the vote and hold two Congresses, Grueva could not have been any firmer in her opposition. "I think this would be both unnecessary and completely irresponsible," she said.

"Since we cannot properly reform and start to earn money again until we have an election, what is the purpose of delaying this election?

"Postponing the Congress, and the election, beyond the end of March 2020 would be going against our own statutes. AIBA is having serious difficulties organising one Extraordinary Congress, so where is the money coming from to organise two of them?"

The future of Olympic boxing and AIBA remains uncertain ©Getty Images
The future of Olympic boxing and AIBA remains uncertain ©Getty Images

The meeting in Istanbul will be crucial in shaping the future direction of AIBA, which is now the main priority for Grueva and her fellow Executive Committee members.

With AIBA stripped of any involvement in the boxing tournament at Tokyo 2020, the organisation must focus on reform and turn over a new page if it is to survive a self-inflicted crisis which could so easily have been avoided.

"Not everyone connected to AIBA is untrustworthy or guilty of misbehaviour in the past," Grueva said.

"I believe that, in order to move on, we must all accept responsibility for what happened in the past. I have been part of the Executive Committee, even if I did not vote in favour of many past decisions.

"There needs to be a frank and open apology, above all to our National Federations and the boxing family.

"After that, let us prove, by our actions, that we are worthy of trust and respect. Once we have that, we will deserve to be re-integrated to the wider Olympic family."

Perhaps Grueva herself should be the one tasked with leading AIBA out of the Olympic wilderness. AIBA could certainly do a lot worse.