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May 24, 2019

Tokyo 2020 boxing boss vows to put athletes first


May 24, 2019

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

The IOC tapped Morinari Watanabe from the Japanese Olympic Committee to run a special taskforce to organise 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 at a news conference 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 said.

“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 Wednesday delivered a knock-out blow to AIBA, removing its right to organise 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 organise the tournament quickly despite the tight time-frame, and joked “I might not be getting much sleep.” Asked what his strategy was, he replied: “I was told just two days ago. This is something I was totally unprepared for. I wasn’t expecting this.”

He said he would be flying immediately to IOC headquarters in Switzerland to begin work, admitting: “At this point in time, so many things are still unclear. I need to conduct a thorough analysis to build a good way forward.”

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