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May 24, 2019

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Tokyo 2020 boxing boss vows to put athletes first

The Olympic official hastily put in charge of organizing the Tokyo 2020 boxing competition admitted yesterday he was “totally unprepared” for his appointment, but vowed he would put athletes’ interests first.

The International Olympic Committee tapped Morinari Watanabe from the Japanese Olympic Committee to run a special taskforce to organize the Tokyo 2020 boxing competition on Wednesday after stripping the world amateur governing body, AIBA, of the right following misconduct allegations.

The 60-year-old, currently head of the International Gymnastics Federation, told reporters in Tokyo that the call had come out of the blue. “It was two days ago at night. I was having dinner and all of sudden, the (country code) 44 appeared on my phone. I was wondering who it was and it was (IOC) President (Thomas) Bach!”

“He told me to become chair of the taskforce. I was happy. I was aware of the challenges and issues and I knew there were athletes who are suffering and if there are athletes suffering, it is the obligation of an IOC member to go out and support them,” he said, talking through an interpreter.

He said he had always tried to put athletes first at the gymnastics federation, even revealing he had asked “to clean the bathrooms” on a recent trip, “because that’s what the president should be doing.”

“Getting the voice of the athletes is really important ... I want to understand their concerns,” he said.

After months of dancing around each other, the IOC on Wednesday delivered a knockout blow to the AIBA, removing its right to organize the Tokyo boxing competition but insisting that a tournament would nonetheless take place.

The IOC had frozen preparations for the boxing at Tokyo 2020 pending a months-long investigation into alleged serious mismanagement at the crisis-riddled association. The details have yet to be hammered out, but the IOC has said qualifications will take place between January and May 2020.

Watanabe said there was “no choice” but to organize the tournament quickly despite the tight time-frame, and joked “I might not be getting much sleep.”

Tokyo 2020 organizers, meanwhile, welcomed the IOC’s recommendation to include boxing at next year’s Games.

“Of course it is the most important thing for the athletes who have been training and preparing for this,” said John Coates, the man entrusted by the IOC to oversee the smooth running of the Games, following meetings in Tokyo.

“(There is) obviously much work to be done by Mr Watanabe’s committee but we have got no doubt that with the cooperation of the organizing committee we can meet the expectations and dreams of all athletes.”

The IOC has made gender equality a priority leading into Tokyo 2020 yet at the last two Olympics there have been three boxing medal events for women and 10 for men.

“You can be assured that whoever organizes the Olympic competition, we will insist on this principle of gender equality for boxing,” IOC President Bach said earlier this month.


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