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Michael Conlan calls for corrupt boxing officials to face criminal charges

The Guardian logo The Guardian 01/10/2021 Exclusive by Sean Ingle
Photograph: Inpho/REX/Shutterstock © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Inpho/REX/Shutterstock

The Irish boxer Michael Conlan, whose hugely controversial quarter-final defeat at the 2016 Olympics is now formally suspected of being fixed, has called for those implicated in manipulating bouts in Rio to face criminal charges for sporting fraud.

Related: Judges ‘used signals’ to fix Olympic boxing bouts, McLaren report finds

Speaking to the Guardian after reading Professor Richard McLaren’s devastating investigation into corruption in amateur boxing, Conlan also urged the sport’s governing body, Aiba, to award him the Olympic medal that he believes was robbed from him when he lost to the Russian Vladimir Nikitin.

“I was reigning world champion, the number one seed, and favourite for gold in Rio and I had my dream ripped away from me - how do you put a price on that?” he told the Guardian. “To be honest I had put it to bed, but reading the report has given me hope of justice.

“But for justice to be served it won’t be enough for anyone involved in corruption to be kicked out of the sport,” he said. “This is white-collar crime. This is sporting fraud. Those involved should be charged as criminals.”

“After I called Aiba corrupt in Rio, they fined me 10,000 Swiss francs for speaking out,” he added. “I never paid it, but if I ever want to work in amateur boxing as a coach or trainer I would have to give them the money before returning.

“How can it be right that I am fined for speaking the truth and reacting like any normal person would – while those responsible for corruption may not face anything like that?”

McLaren’s damning report found that a handpicked team of five-star referees and judges – the highest possible rank in the sport – used signals at ringside, or instructed other colleagues on the morning of fights, as to who should win a particular match.

He also found that the corruption went right to the top with two senior Aiba officials – Wu Ching-Kuo and Karim Bouzidi, then Aiba President and executive director, respectively - being “key actors” in “allowing the manipulation to flourish.”

Speaking in Lausanne on Thursday, McLaren confirmed that defeats for Great Britain’s Joe Joyce in the super-heavyweight final against France’s Tony Yoka and Conlan’s loss in his bantamweight quarter-final against the Russian Vladimir Nikitin were bouts under investigation.

That did not surprise Conlan, who now wants justice. “My message to Aiba is that I want my medal and I know I deserve it. They robbed me of the chance of gold, and there’s no way you could give me it now because I never got to compete in a semi-final or final. But I think the right decision would be for Aiba to overturn all bouts McLaren says were affected by corruption – which would mean I get the bronze.”

In 2017 Aiba said that none of its seven five-star judges would ever officiate at international level again, while Wu was banned a year later. Bouzidi has also since left amateur boxing. McLaren will present two further reports in November and next March, which will recommend the sporting sanctions for those found responsible.

Michael Conlan, right, reacts as Vladimir Nikitin is declared the victor in their quarter-final bout at the Rio Olympics. © Photograph: Inpho/REX/Shutterstock Michael Conlan, right, reacts as Vladimir Nikitin is declared the victor in their quarter-final bout at the Rio Olympics.

“There will be an awful lot of decisions to overturn for history to be put right, including the result of Joe Joyce’s super-heavyweight gold medal fight,” added Conlan. But that is the only answer.”

The Irish fighter, who is now an unbeaten professional who recently won the WBA interim featherweight belt, also confirmed to the Guardian that he would be delighted to meet with McLaren’s team of investigators to tell him what he knows. But he said that none of what he had heard so far had shocked him.

“No, no, no,” he said. “I know what those judges look like. I remember them all in their little clique. None of what McLaren found surprised me.”

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