Tokyo (AFP) - The International Olympic Committee Friday froze preparations for boxing at the 2020 Games and launched a probe into the sport's troubled governing body, warning it could be stripped of the right to run the competition.
The IOC stressed it still wanted boxing to go ahead at Tokyo 2020 but warned its inquiry into the International Boxing Association (AIBA) "can lead to the withdrawal of (its) recognition".
But the IOC said it would make "all efforts to protect the athletes and ensure that a boxing tournament can take place at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 regardless of these measures".
It added that it still had concerns over the "governance, ethics and financial management" of AIBA, which last month elected as president a controversial Uzbek businessman linked to organised crime by the US Treasury Department, a claim he denies.
IOC sports director Kit McConnell said qualifying for the 2020 boxing tournament had been put on hold, making it the only sport not to have its qualifiers approved.
"We are not going ahead, while the inquiry is underway, with any qualification system for the Olympic boxing competition in Tokyo," McConnell said.
"The step today is a very significant one and I'm not sure it's one that's ever been done," added the sports director.
The freeze encompasses all official contact between AIBA and Tokyo 2020 organisers, as well as ticket sales, test event planning and finalising the competition schedule.
Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said organisers would be "very keen to work closely with the IOC to address any impact that we may have."
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 Gafur Rakhimov as leader, who strenuously rejects the charges from the US Treasury Department.
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.
It said a new judging system brought in after the Rio scandal had been "positively received by athletes and technical officials alike."
The association also said that it had restored its finances to a healthy level and implemented "stringent" new controls to turn the page on previous mismanagement.
"The fear of going bankrupt due to past financial mismanagement is now far behind us," said Rakhimov in a statement released on Thursday.
"It is time to turn the page and look further to the development of boxing worldwide," added the 67-year-old.
- Not 'comfortable' situation -
The IOC did acknowledge progress in the areas of judging and refereeing, and anti-doping.
But IOC spokesman Mark Adams stressed: "It's not just about Rakhimov, it's a whole range of things in terms of governance."
McConnell admitted it was not a "comfortable situation for anyone", with just over 600 days until the opening ceremony but insisted the IOC had the athletes' best interests at heart.
The measures are "designed to protect you as an athlete ... and the integrity of the competition," he said.
Boxing has an ancient Olympic tradition and was introduced to the Ancient Games by the Greeks in the seventh century B.C., according to the IOC website.
It made its debut at the modern games in St. Louis in 1904 and has featured at every Olympics since, apart from the Stockholm Games of 1912 because Swedish law at the time banned the sport.
Several famous boxers have made their debut on the world stage in the Olympic Ring.
An 18-year-old called Cassius Clay won gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics, kickstarting the career of a boxer who would become Muhammad Ali, considered the greatest of all time.
Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Floyd Mayweather Jr and Leon Spinks are all other celebrated names in the boxing world who got their break at the Olympics.