Tokyo, Japan: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will "work hard" to include boxing in the 2020 Games in Tokyo despite freezing preparations over a governance crisis in the sport, the body's chief said Saturday.
On Friday, the IOC said it was halting preparations for boxing at the 2020 Games and launched a probe into the sport's troubled governing body — the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, IOC President Thomas Bach declined to promise that boxing would be part of the 2020 games, but said "we will make all efforts to protect the athletes as we always do."
He said the IOC had "received a request from the national boxing federation of Japan pleading to have an Olympic boxing tournament. We're absolutely in line with this request," he added.
"We want to have one and this is why we will work hard."
But he said there were ongoing concerns about AIBA, particularly its head — a controversial Uzbek businessman linked to organised crime by the US Treasury Department. He denies the claims.
AIBA meanwhile said it was "pleased" that the IOC's executive board had "acknowledged" its progress, despite the virtually unprecedented decision by the body to freeze progress to include boxing in 2020.
AIBA head Gafur Rakhimov also rejected the suggestion that his listing by the US Treasury Department impacted his ability to run the organisation.
"I can assure the IOC that the situation with US authorities based on false allegations by the previous regime of my country is being addressed and that my legal team is working hard to correct this," the statement issued late Friday said.
The IOC's decision poses logistical problems for the organisers of the 2020 games, freezing all official contact between AIBA and 2020 organisers, as well as ticket sales, test event planning and finalising the competition schedule.
But Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said Saturday that while "official level contact" was halted, working-level contact with AIBA would continue.
"Working level contact is allowed, that's our understanding. So we will liaise, we will keep our collaboration, coordination," he told reporters after a meeting with the IOC's executive board in Tokyo.
"We will make efforts in preparation so that we have no delay in responding to the eventual decision which might come to implement the competition (of boxing)," he added.
"Venue preparation will proceed accordingly."
The IOC's final decision on whether to include boxing in the 2020 programme is not expected until next June, Muto said.
But he sought to reassure athletes that Tokyo would be ready if the IOC permitted a boxing tournament at the Games.
"Regarding the preparations, no worries, that's what I want to say to the athletes," he said.
Relations between the IOC and AIBA took a dive at the 2016 Rio Olympics when 36 officials and referees were suspended amid allegations of bout fixing.
Ties were further battered earlier this month when AIBA elected Rakhimov as leader.
AIBA made a last-ditch bid to persuade the IOC that it had cleaned up its act, issuing a flurry of statements lauding its own efforts on financing and judging.
But while the IOC has acknowledged progress on judging, refereeing and anti-doping, it said there were still a "whole range" of issues on governance.
Boxing has an ancient Olympic tradition and has featured at every modern games since 1904, expect the 1912 Games in Stockholm because Swedish law at the time banned the sport.