Boxing is considered a ‘noble’ Olympic sport, one of the seven sports played in the ancient Olympics of the Greeks. Yet this noble sport is now being tarnished by its connection with a brutal war machine of the 21st century.
Russian energy firm Gazprom is the general sponsor of the International Boxing Association (IBA), and has funnelled around CHF 25 million into the sports federation as of June 30, 2021.
Yet Gazprom is also seen as funding Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. In the run-up to the invasion, Gazprom reportedly did not fully refill Europe’s gas storage reserves, so that Europeans would be vulnerable to energy shocks and therefore less likely to intervene when it invaded Ukraine.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has raised concerns over IBA’s Gazprom deal.
IBA should act quickly to change its main sponsor. Now that Gazprom has helped restore IBA’s finances, it has served its usefulness to the federation. The IBA leadership should replace Gazprom as sponsor, so that boxing is not tainted by its association with Gazprom any further.
There is no shortage of brands who would be willing to sponsor IBA. The federation organises World Championships for men and women, as well as continental competitions, for which it could award lucrative broadcast rights.
IBA can tie up with top global brands, such as manufacturers of energy drinks, sports apparel or sports cars.
So why is current IBA president Umar Kremlev not replacing Gazprom as sponsor? That is easy to answer: Kremlev is Russian and seen as pro-Kremlin, so he is personally not interested in ejecting a Russian company that is 38%-owned by the Kremlin.
Also, without Gazprom, Kremlev cannot claim to be the financial saviour of IBA.
Without his opaque connection to the Russian firm, Kremlev would just be an ordinary sports official, and have to do the hard work of bringing in sponsors and improving the sport of boxing.
No surprise then that Kremlev has turned a deaf ear to the sports world’s demand to drop Russian funding.
Contrast IBA’s foot-dragging with the swift action from football officials:
UEFA ended its partnership deal with Gazprom within 4 days of the Russian invasion, despite the deal worth around €40-60 million a year.
The German Bundesliga team Schalke 04 also dropped Gazprom as its primary shirt sponsor.
This is an abject failure of leadership within IBA.
If IBA’s officials are unable or unwilling to act, then it is the responsibility of IBA’s National Federations to put pressure on the Board of Directors.
At the IBA Congress next week, they have to the opportunity to announce the will of the boxing family to move out from Gazprom’s shadow.
The sport deserves a sponsor that is a well-respected brand whose reputation complements IBA’s. Gazprom is neither, and should be replaced.