Ipswich: Olympic visitors hit by claims of bribery

IPSWICH: Officials looking forward to hosting an ambitious international team at next year’s Olympics have been stunned by a major bribery scandal.

The town is to provide the training camp for an expected 50-plus athletes from the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan competing at London 2012.

But a Newsnight investigation for the BBC has alleged a plot to “buy” gold medals for the country.

An unnamed source told the programme-makers that a multi-million pound donation from an Azerbaijani to the International Amateur Boxing Association was an attempt to secure two “guaranteed” Olympic golds.

The allegations come with the World Championships – which double as the first Olympic qualifiers – due to begin this weekend in the Azerbaijan capital, Baku.

Ipswich Borough Council, which arranged for the Azerbaijanis to be based in the town next summer, had no advance inkling of the controversy.

A council spokesman said: “These are very serious allegations which we are taking seriously.

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“The Ipswich training camp plans for 2012 were taken in good faith with the support of the London 2012 Organising Committee.”

Even before the corruption allegations broke it was unknown whether the Azerbaijani Olympic team would include any boxers.

“We’re not yet certain exactly who will be in the team,” the spokesman added. “If there are any boxers we will find suitable training facilities for them in Ipswich.”

John Stebbings, the man leading Olympic preparations for the borough, said: “Not many people even know where Azerbaijan is, but they are really keen to promote themselves on the world stage.

“To them, winning the Eurovision Song Contest was huge. It gives them the chance to stage the next one in Baku, and they’ve got the world’s biggest programme of luxury hotel-building going on for that.

“The Olympics are massively important to them. They have thrown their hat in the ring to host the Games in 2020, which shows what it means to them.”

The International Olympics Committee has urged the BBC to hand over any evidence it may have to support the corruption allegations.

An IOC statement said: “We welcome the announcement by the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) of an immediate enquiry into these claims and we await the outcome of their investigation.

“For its part the IOC takes all allegations of corruption very seriously. And we would urge the BBC to make any evidence they have available to AIBA and to our Ethics Commission, which will then determine if further action is necessary.”

n How are you gearing up for the 2012 Games? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or alternatively you can send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk