A fearless journalist who may have saved boxing – the incomparable Andrew Jennings

He walked around with a mischievous look on his face and pulled me to one side: “It’s Fidel on the phone—the Cubans are done,” he told me.

Houston was in the summer of 1999, a very troublesome amateur tournament, and after several bad and bad decisions, Fidel Castro had just ordered the Cuban team back to Havana.

At a gathering, on one side of the ring, Raul Villanueva, the top official of the Cuban delegation, was talking on a large telephone. Pause for attention. Next to him was Felix Savon, in a head guard, with a towel on his chest in Cuban fashion, a shield of gum – I will never forget those details – and he was standing in front of the Cuban flag. To his left was the Cuban coach Alcides Sagara. There was an amazing showdown. Villanueva hung up on the phone, and the Cuban team led by Savon walked around the ring singing. Savon was gloved and ready for the final with American Michael Bennett.

And when the song ended, the Cuban team left the building.

“It’s crazy, I knew this was coming; I’m going to go talk to the professor,” added the man beside me. There was a mixture of adrenaline and exhilaration in the man’s voice.

The man was Andrew Jennings and his investigative journalism likely saved boxing from being expelled from the Olympics long ago. At the time, he was blamed for taking boxing to the extreme. Well, that was the chosen and paid combo.

Cuban coach Alcides Sagarra waves the Cuban flag and leads his heavyweight fighter Felix Savon around the ring in a protest display at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Houston. (Paul Buck/AFP via Getty Images)

Jennings died that day. He was once a very, very good friend and remains one of the best and bravest writers I’ve ever had at a press conference or front row in the ring or in the pub.

In Houston on that steamy day, Jennings blasted away to take on Professor Anwar Chowdhury, president of the International Boxing Association. Choudary tried to sell him another story about cleaning up the mess and rooting out corruption. It was verbal theft, make no mistake.

Jennings had heard it all before through decades of stalking, stalking, and exposing the most corrupt people in the sports world. His book on Olympic corruption, and how gold medals can be bought and sold, was called, Lords of the Rings. There were two other books, all great, all absolutely crazy, and full of stories that are hard to believe and hard to invent. Jennings was a genius.

Jennings found the professor, but when asked if he would meet with the press to discuss the Cuban decision, he was met with a look of bewilderment. “Chowdhury looked at me as if I was crazy.” Jennings wrote that in his 2000 book, The Great Olympic Monument.

The 1980s and 1990s were a rough period for Olympic sport; Giant bribes, jobs for boys, and endless heartbreak for competitors in many sports. Jennings exposed corruption and appointed the arrogant officials who run the Olympic movement. The boxing family he found was rotten. He received death threats, resisted silencing, and traveled to places where he could have easily disappeared. He also wrote about the people who were killed. It’s a long list.

He is attending in Nairobi at a conference, confronts an Uzbek official and refuses to back down. Charged, uninvited, smiling, scruffy, boisterous and unafraid. Then come the embarrassing questions.

There were no taboo subjects when Jennings went to war: bribery, illegal child scholarships, first-class travel for mistresses, pimping, corrupt schemes; National treasures, miscreants, crooks, drug lords, billionaires, and some deceived sports jerks felt the power of what Jennings thought was true.

And he had a special love affair with the old game.

Jennings got to know a guy named Karl-Heinz Wehr, a very strong amateur boxing broker from East Germany. It was Wehr, Stasi’s agent, who provided all the details about the Roy Jones and Park Si-Hun Olympic final in Seoul. Ware, whose Stasi code name was Seagull, detailed the money, names, and envelope holders. His files were meant to remain hidden in the Stasi vaults in East Berlin forever. Then the world changed and Jennings found them.

Ware was shaken when he returned from Seoul. He knew his sport was in danger of being hijacked by seasoned gangsters. He took a break before informing his commissioners. Rest assured, Weir wasn’t far from his own political decisions, but he was a Cold War veteran, old-school Soviet worker. Weir was a colonel in the East German People’s Army; He was a normal customer at Stasi. Weir and Jennings finally spoke. Chowdhury was not a fan of Veer – The Seagull kept a record of all the Professor’s deals.

Jennings helped make Jones’ failure an international farce. He discovered the filth in those stored and locked files, wrote about it, addressed it. He exposed Choudhury’s sordid little details and how they were just part of a complete sorority of Olympic corruption. It was an Olympic crisis with governments, kings, and the wealthiest citizens all involved in gaming fraud.

I love Jennings. I love conflict. He attacked the mighty in our sport and named and shamed the crooked officials. Here is Roman rule, Ugandan there and rich South Koreans. There were no outcasts in his world.

In Houston 1999, Jennings was all over the place; In the fighting hotel, at breakfast, in the locker rooms, in the ringside row. Always draw the attention of officials, ask about absent friends (crooked officials with visa issues) and predict the end of boxing. Instead, I really think it helped boxing survive. It was a slow process, his allegations at first being very excessive, and the violations being normal; Unsurprisingly, Jennings was often called a criminal. But Jennings did not stop.

As early as 1994, there were internal IOC documents calling for boxing to be dropped from the Olympics calendar; The disgrace in Seoul in the boxing ring was a disaster. Jennings helped shine a very bright light on sinners and devious power brokers, the men who punished and paid for abuses; There is a real argument that boxing would have simply fallen without a spotlight.

In Houston, we saw the Cuban delegation taking orders directly from Havana. Jennings had a big smile on his face. It was part of history again.

By the way, Sagara and Savon are together. This is a legend.

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