Boxing’s embarrassing determination to avoid the unpalatable truth about its often tawdry business was laid bare on Thursday evening during a media conference call to publicize the world heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte at Wembley Stadium on 23 April.
Earlier this week the biggest boxing news story of the year broke when the US Treasury announced that they had imposed harsh sanctions against Daniel Kinahan, one of the most powerful men in the sport, who has acted as a confidante and adviser to Fury and many others leading fighters in Britain and the United States. The US government also warned all fighters and promoters who have worked with Kinahan to cut ties with him owing to his alleged leadership of a criminal cartel.
Yet, on a Zoom call featuring up to a hundred journalists, not one question was put to Fury, or his promoters Bob Arum and Frank Warren, about the damage done to boxing’s already battered reputation. Those reporters invited to offer their queries to Fury chose to focus exclusively on routine questions about the buildup to the fight and the world champion’s exuberant mood as he prepares to defend his titles against Whyte before a crowd of 94,000 a week on Saturday. Meanwhile, journalists who work outside the parochial boxing media, and were itching to ask Fury how he felt about the sanctions imposed on Kinahan, were left frustrated.
All the media were muted until called and so there was no way of breaking the omerta of silence that engulfs boxing when it comes to discussing the deeply troubling influence of Kinahan. Based in Dubai, and in exile from his native Ireland where he and his family face multiple allegations of criminal activity, Kinahan has been a source of great support to multiple boxers. They all wear by his loyalty and generosity to them.
Last year Fury took to social media to praise the crucial role Kinahan had played in arranging a hugely lucrative showdown between him and Anthony Joshua. That fight failed to materialize after a US judge ruled that Fury was contractually bound to meet Deontay Wilder first. Since then Kinahan’s power base in boxing has spread significantly and two companies closely associated with him, MTK and Probellum, have expanded.
Kinahan, who has no criminal convictions, has always denied any wrongdoing. Last month it seemed as if he had taken another giant step forward in his concerted campaign to clean up his reputation. Mauricio Sulaiman, the head of the World Boxing Council, lamented the fact that Kinahan was “a character who has been crossed out and labeled as a person linked to criminal groups, thus creating prejudice against a large part of the world boxing community.” Sulaiman defended Kinahan vigorously and stressed he “will have our full support in his quest to bring benefits to boxing.”
Yet this week in Dublin, at a very different kind of press conference, the US government offered a reward of $5m for information that would lead to the financial disruption or the arrest or conviction of Kinahan, his father, his brother and four of their associates.
Gregory Gatjanis, an associate director of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, said the Kinahan cartel would now be prioritized by US law enforcement in the same way it had pursued the Italian Camorra, the Yakuza mafia of Japan and the Russian Izmaylovskaya.
On Thursday evening, in the muted and fawning world of Zoom, it was as if this story had never happened. Fury is a highly intelligent world champion who has done substantial work in developing a wider understanding of mental health. He is confident and smart enough to deal with almost any media query. It would have been fascinating to hear Fury’s thoughts on the seismic events of this week – both for Kinahan and for boxing.
Instead there was hot air and silence. An eminent news and investigative journalist, who works outside of the red-light district of boxing, had waited an hour to ask a question. Like so many, his opportunity never came and so he wrote just one accurate word to the rest of us on the call: “Embarrassing.”