The past year has been a roller coaster for the International Boxing Association (IBA), marked by one clear direction: the international nature of this amateur boxing body has been replaced by a Russian-centric focus.
The IBA is now not only Russian-led, it is also bankrolled by Russian money and its operations are reportedly being run from Moscow, not Lausanne.
The result is that IBA is now a Russian boxing association in all but name.
How did this transpire? The IBA has been led for the past two years by Russian Umar Kremlev since he won the presidency in December 2020. He has steadily brought in Russians to manage operations at IBA.
Financing has been provided by Russian energy giant Gazprom, with whom Kremlev signed an opaque deal in 2021. This was renewed in 2022, providing Kremlev’s team a financial lifeline that they can use to buy influence and perhaps even votes.
Being bankrolled by Russian money has skewed the priorities of the sports body too. When Kremlev faced a challenger in the presidential election in May, IBA sought to disqualify Boris van der Vorst and tried getting Kremlev ‘re-elected’ without even a vote.
When the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled this move illegal, IBA had no choice but to address the situation. However, instead of holding a fresh election, IBA merely held a Congress in Russian-ally Armenia, away from Switzerland where there would have been greater scrutiny.
After a power-cut and voting irregularities, it was duly announced that National Federations had chosen to not have another election, and were happy for Kremlev to stay as IBA president. Really?
So IBA is no longer a place where international norms are followed. The fig-leaf of following ethics and governance standards has gone, being replaced by ‘I have the money and the votes, so what I decide goes’.
Unfortunately for Kremlev and his team, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has lost patience with him. It has stripped IBA of the right to organise boxing at the Paris 2024, for the second Olympic Games in a row, but the ignominy goes further: the sport itself is in danger of being dropped from the Paris Games as well as the Los Angeles Games in 2028 – the first time boxing will miss the Olympics in over a century.
This is a direct result of Kremlev’s efforts to turn IBA into a sports pariah, whereby it may be increasingly isolated but he has almost total control over it. As WorldBoxing.Today pointed out in May, IBA can continue to organise its World Championships, presided over by Kremlev, and provide branding opportunities for Gazprom, but its days of creating Olympic legends like Muhammad Ali, Laszlo Papp and Felix Savon are effectively over.
What does 2023 hold for IBA? There is a very real chance of a split in amateur boxing, whereby a new sports body will be set up to run boxing at the Olympics. This will leave the Russian IBA on the sidelines, awash in money and awarding its own ‘World’ titles, but with no connection to the Olympic titles that really matter. IBA will then become in effect just another professional boxing organisation.
The real test will be when the IOC cracks the whip and forces boxers to choose between competing in the ‘Russian’ IBA and the Olympics. That is the only thing keeping Kremlev awake at night.