Umar Kremlev during his AIBA election speech on December 12, 2020, in front of a photograph of him shaking hands with Russian president Vladimir Putin (Photo: World Boxing Today)
The pressure is growing on sport bodies to exclude Russians and Belarusians from international sport due to their countries’ invasion of Ukraine. Swiss Minister of Sport Viola Amherd has called on International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach to suspend officials from Russia and Belarus.
And Wimbledon has now banned players from both countries from competing this year, in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
This puts an uncomfortable spotlight on Umar Kremlev, the president of the International Boxing Association (IBA), who is Russian and seen as pro-Kremlin.
He has not publicly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and has doubled down on his position as IBA president, despite internal calls for him to step down.
Kremlev was elected in December 2020 and his term ends next month. Despite the global outcry about Russian invasion of Ukraine, he even intends to stand for re-election at the IBA Congress on May 13-14, as though it was business as usual.
The IOC has raised concerns over the opaque sponsorship deal that Kremlev signed with Russian state-owned giant Gazprom. The nature of this agreement has not been made public by Kremlev, but he has made IBA dependent on the financial largesse of a Russian energy giant at a time when Russian energy is seen as funding Putin’s war machine.
Kremlev may find that his position is becoming untenable. IBA will have to come with grips with the new reality of international sport, that there is no place for Russian athletes or sports officials as long as their country occupies Ukraine.
In March, a group of around 30 countries, including Switzerland, issued a declaration calling for effective measures to be taken by international sports federations against Russia and Belarus.
According to the Keystone-SDA news agency, Amherd’s letter on April 16 states that, in view of the situation in Ukraine, it is no longer sufficient to just exclude athletes from the two countries.
She insisted the IOC should take a “further step”, and that Bach should implement a tougher stance against sports officials.
According to Swissinfo, Christoph Lauener, head of communications at the Swiss Federal Office of Sport, said international sports federations are organised under private law. He pointed out that the IOC has much more effective means than the state and can exclude the federations from the Olympic family, if necessary.
Some 53 international sports organisations have their headquarters in Switzerland, so the Swiss position puts them under incredible pressure.
The IOC has responded to the Swiss demand, and tried to justify keeping Russian and Belarusian sports officials. The IOC claimed its members are elected as individuals by the IOC and, according to the Olympic Charter, do not represent their country in the body.
But Bach may soon have his hand forced, with Russia accused of war crimes for its actions in Ukraine. The Russian killings of civilians in Bucha near the capital Kyiv have shocked the world.
The IOC cannot simply ignore this moral and humanitarian crisis as something that does not directly concern international sport and its officials.