Duncan Mackay

Failure to implement good governance, lack of financial transparency and doubts over the integrity of the referee and judging process were the reasons that led the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to yesterday recommend the withdrawal of the recognition of the International Boxing Association (IBA).

But, studying the full 24-page report released by the IOC explaining the decision, it is clear that it was the increasingly aggressive attitude of IBA’s President Umar Kremlev towards the Olympic Movement that finally forced them to snap.

IBA - or AIBA, as it was then known - had been warned as long ago as May 2019 that they were in danger of being kicked out of the IOC when they stripped them of the right to organise the boxing tournament at Tokyo 2020, which then extended to them being cut out of Paris 2024 and left off the initial programme for Los Angeles 2028.

What seems to have particularly antagonised the Lords of the Rings is Kremlev’s repeated claims that the IBA did not need the Olympics to survive. As recently as three days ago, the Russian told an interviewer, "We don't want to be dictated and governed by third persons."

The turning point, according to the IOC report, came in December last year shortly after the Federation’s Congress in Abu Dhabi, where there was "a change in attitude and tone of the IBA’s letters was noticed … What were initially obvious excuses to be uncooperative became open intimidation towards the IOC if it continued with the organisation of the boxing tournament at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 without the IBA’s support."

Certainly, the language used by Kremlev in his interview with Reuters that any decision to exclude boxing based solely on feelings of revenge against the IBA and its Russian President, and without any direct consultations, was "even worse than terrorism" was ill-judged in the current climate.

Even in the IBA press release yesterday. posted a couple of hours after the IOC Executive Board had effectively expelled the organisation from the Olympics, they were trying to claim that they were bigger than the Games.

"The IBA remains the home of boxing and we now move forward as an organisation dedicated to the health of the forest not just one tree which only represents participation for 248 boxers every four years," IBA’s secretary general George Yerolimpos said in a florid paragraph.

The constant criticism by IBA President Umar Kremlev of the IOC contributed to the decision  to recommend their removal from the Olympic Movement ©IBA
The constant criticism by IBA President Umar Kremlev of the IOC contributed to the decision  to recommend their removal from the Olympic Movement ©IBA

Well, the IBA’s bluff has now been well and truly called and they can put their theory to the test if, as it surely will, the special IOC Session on June 22, accepts the Executive Board recommendation to de-recognise them.

"Considering these repeated declarations, it can only be noted that the IBA has no interest in continuing to belong to the Olympic Movement under the leadership of the IOC," the report pointedly says. "In fact, the IBA does not need the IOC’s recognition to continue its activities outside the Olympic Movement as part of the wider sports community."

At a hastily convened online IBA Board of Directors tomorrow, Kremlev will face questions over his high-risk strategy which has failed spectacularly. He could even face calls for him to resign, although he is expected to comfortably rebuff such attempts and promise that IBA still has a bright future under him. Yerolimpos may not be so fortunate and could be the one left to carry the can.

Kremlev will try to persuade those involved in the IBA that under him, the governing body can still look forward to staging major events offering record prize money and unrivalled opportunities for boxers from all the over the world to compete.

Interestingly, though, this increase in the amount of prize money being offered at IBA events was among concerns setting alarm bells ringing in Lausanne, along with the body’s controversial relationship with Gazprom.

IBA has claimed that they did not renew their sponsorship agreement with Russia’s state-owned energy company after it ended at the end of last year, even though Kremlev had asked at the Congress in Abu Dhabi just a few weeks earlier whether members were happy for it to continue.

The IBA website had continued to display Gazprom’s logo and it was only removed early in April, coinciding with calls from Yerolimpos to insidethegames to claim the deal had not been renewed, even though we had been reported for several months that it had been following the vote at the Congress which we had reported from on-site. It turns out now that references to Gazprom were taken down following a letter from the IOC.

The next month, however, during the Men’s World Championships in Tashkent, IBA claimed that "we will extend [Gazprom] if there is an opportunity" and "we are thankful for Gazprom". The IOC report noted, "All this contradictory information appears to be a sign of the IBA’s lack of financial transparency and reliability."

Record prize money at IBA World Championships funded by host cities and country has led to IOC fears of manipulation ©IBA
Record prize money at IBA World Championships funded by host cities and country has led to IOC fears of manipulation ©IBA

Yet, Kremlev still announced in Tashkent that at next year’s IBA Women's World Boxing Championships in Astana in Kazakhstan nearly $5 million (£4 million/€4.5 million) in prize money will be offer.

IBA have told the IOC that this is figure, which the IOC note is "considerably high, in particular in comparison with IF allocations", is being bankrolled by the host fee paid by cities and countries staging its events.

This, the IOC fear, could lead to medals being awarded to boxers from the host country as a "reward", which would not be the first time this happened in the sport. "Such a direct link between the event’s host and the financing of the competition’s prizes may create a conflict-of-interest situation, in the past a similar situation occurred in relation to the qualification competitions for the Olympic Games London 2012, and AIBA’s reputation was questioned at the time," the IOC report warns.

IBA’s finances remain a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, to quote Winston Churchill’s famous quote about the Soviet Union. According to the IOC, in the absence of ending its deal with Gazprom, IBA have failed to "produce any effective evidence of the signing of new contracts providing cash revenues".

The IOC added, "One may conclude that the IBA’s cash position can only be expected to further decline after June 2023, if the expenditure is maintained at the current budget level and no additional sources of revenues are contracted for the next period."

The IOC have just as little confidence in IBA’s governance, claiming that changes to statutes were just window dressing. "Change of governance culture implies not only that a sports organisation changes its legal texts, but also that it ensures that the principles of good governance are fully implemented in all the activities and practices of the organisation," it writes in its report.

The decision to first exclude Dutchman Boris van der Vorst from standing against Kremlev at the IBA Extraordinary Congress in Istanbul in May 2022, and then ignore the subsequent Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling that he had been unfairly excluded and fail to re-stage the election at another Extraordinary Congress in Yerevan last September, is called a "disrespect" of the decision.

The resignation of the IBA’s entire Audit Committee was another red flag for the IOC.

IBA did not properly reform the referee and judging process, the IOC claimed ©IBA
IBA did not properly reform the referee and judging process, the IOC claimed ©IBA

The failure to properly reform the referee and judging process following the scandal at Rio 2016 also undermined confidence, a situation exacerbated by trying to force PricewaterhouseCoopers, who had overseen the Olympic boxing tournament at Tokyo 2020, to sign a non-disclosure agreement to assess the Women’s World Boxing Championships in New Delhi in March which would have limited the information they could have shared with the IOC. It is little wonder that they found that behaviour suspicious. 

It is noticeable that the IOC report carefully refrains from criticising Kremlev personally or drawing attention to his close links to Vladimir Putin, totally ignoring the decision to allow boxers from Russia and Belarus to compete under its own flag in direct defiance of recommendations issued following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. This has clearly been done to try to give an opportunity for Russia to frame this decision as a political one linked to the war. 

In truth, this has been coming for years, long before Kremlev was involved - do not forget he succeeded as permanent President, Gafur Rakhimov, included on United States Treasury Department sanctions list as "one of Uzbekistan's leading criminals" and allegedly closely involved heroin trafficking. 

Kremlev’s recent interventions may have accelerated the process, but the IOC claimed the latest report "shows not only one specific point of non-compliance but an accumulation of points of non-compliances with the conditions set out by the IOC.

"Taken separately, each point justifies the conclusion that the IBA did not fulfil the conditions set out by the IOC. Hence, the accumulation of all of these points, and the constant lack of drastic evolution throughout the many years, creates a situation of no-return."

It leaves World Boxing, the breakaway group described by IBA as a "rogue organisation" and which the IOC claim they are not behind, in pole position to take over. 

But do not think IBA are going to just lay down and accept a count to 10. Remember, so far only two countries of IBA’s 201 members have pledged to join World Boxing, although this number will surely increase dramatically in the next few weeks.

Funded by Russian money, Kremlev will try to re-fashion IBA as a world governing body offering more opportunities, more money, more resources to its members. To quote Churchill again, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Perhaps at this point, the only real winner so far is Olympic boxing, which tucked away, right at the end of the IOC report, it is confirmed will be on the programme at the Games in 2028. "The additional consequence of this situation … is that the IBA should not organise the Olympic Games LA28 boxing tournament," is how the report is concluded.