What you need to know:
- In June this year, the IOC stripped the IBA of recognition owing to “failure to complete reforms on governance, financial and ethical issues"
- Boxing is a key sport in the Olympic Games and qualification for Paris 2024 is being overseen by the IOC with IBA having handled the Tokyo 2020 process
- The IOC stripped Russia of its IOC membership last month following Moscow’s decision to claim regional sports organisations in occupied areas of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia
Last Thursday afternoon, Umar Kremlev left the five-star Shangri-La Hotel on 10 Av. d'Iéna, Paris, to catch his next flight out of the French capital.
And as he boarded his private jet at the Charles de Gaulle Airport for a whistlestop global tour, the Russian knew had delivered a strong message he hopes would revolutionise global boxing… An uppercut that’s on the verge of throwing global sport into a spin.
The International Boxing Association (IBA) President had hurriedly convened a global press conference attended by about 70 journalists - with Nation Sport being the only African media desk in attendance - as hundreds of others followed the hybrid delivery virtually.
Some 100 other guests were also invited to the Shangri-La.
The choice of the princely, 2,000 Euros-a-night (Sh330,000-a-night) Shangri-La Hotel – part of a chain of hotels owned by Malaysia’s richest man Robert Kuok who boasts an estimated net worth of $11.8 billion (about Sh1.8 trillion) – was significant.
And that’s not all.
At the presser, Kremlev was flanked by Estelle Mossely, France’s World and Olympic champion, considered among the world’s strongest female boxers, and Sofiane Oumiha, France’s three-time World champion and Olympic silver medallist.
Financial wherewithal and support from the elite athletes are key in Kremlev’s fight plan.
Now, global boxing is at a crossroads with the IBA and the rival World Boxing (WB) fighting for recognition at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as days fast tick towards the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
In June this year, the IOC stripped the IBA of recognition owing to “failure to complete reforms on governance, financial and ethical issues.”
The IBA has appealed against the decision at Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with a final ruling expected early next year.
Meanwhile, a number of countries opposed to Kremlev’s IBA moved to form a rival organisation – World Boxing (WB) – which is set to host its inaugural Congress and elections in Frankfurt on Thursday and Friday this week.
The United States of America, Switzerland and Great Britain are among IOC member federations backing the World Boxing horse.
Boxing is a key sport in the Olympic Games and qualification for Paris 2024 is being overseen by the IOC with IBA having handled the Tokyo 2020 process.
CAS had earlier on rejected a bid by IBA to block IOC’s decision to strip its recognition, hence the ongoing case.
Meanwhile, World Boxing is waiting in the wings, hoping the IBA hits the canvas.
At Thursday’s Press Conference, Kremlev was categorical that should CAS uphold IOC’s decision to eject his federation, then they would appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal which is Switzerland’s highest court.
“We are not worried about that…we are more concerned about our boxers. Our lawyers are on top of that. We are concentrated on delivering the events for our athletes, while we are supporting their participation at the Olympic Games,” Kremlev told journalists at the Shangri-La.
“The decision of the IOC Session was unfair, but we have legal experts to deal with that. If it doesn’t work with CAS, we have a higher court in Switzerland that we can refer to.”
The Swiss Federal Tribunal rarely overrules CAS decisions, setting the stage for what will be potentially explosive times in global boxing.
Meanwhile, Kremlev is rallying to host about 200 countries to the IBA’s Ordinary Congress in Dubai on December 9.
The Dubai programme will include a Global Boxing Forum with a stellar cast expected for the “IBA Champions Night” that includes a clash between Russia’s Olympic champion Albert Batyrgaziev and Cuba’s three-time world champion Alvaro Estrada in the 60-kilogramme division, and Azerbaijan’s world champion Loren Alfonso Domingues v World Championships silver medalist, Belarusian Aliaksei Alfiorau, in the 86kg class.
“As of today, 171 national federations will take part in the Congress, a highlight of the Congress agenda being the election of a female representative to the IBA Board of Directors from the Americas, reflecting the IBA’s commitment to gender equality and representation,” the IBA said in a statement on Thursday, adding that the Dubai Congress will also decide “the strategic direction of boxing.”
"We will not allow boxing's destiny to be decided for it, it should be decided by boxers themselves...” Kremlev charged at the Paris Press Conference.
“It's not the Olympic family that has taken this decision, but rather Olympic officials that have pushed it.”
The Russian is throwing every resource, and caution to the wind, towards having the edge in the battle for global boxing supremacy with his IBA also announcing plans for its World Championships in Paris in 2026 and promising “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in prize money for boxers.
With the IOC not offering cash rewards for Olympic medalists, Kremlev is also at the heart of organising lucrative “Friendship Games” in Moscow next September, just days after the Paris Olympics.
Besides prize money, winners at the Olympics-styled, multi-discipline “Friendship Games” have been promised “solid gold” medals for victory in the Russian capital.
But the IOC has already warned its member federations against signing up for the Moscow games, with James MacLeod, IOC’s Director of the Department of Relations with National Olympic Committees, saying the Moscow action goes against their ban on Russian sport.
“Any NOC participation in the World Friendship Games would not only go against the IOC Executive Board's recommendation of February 25, 2022, regarding international sports events held in Russia, but would also run counter to the Olympic Movement's collective aim of preserving the independence and autonomy of sport," MacLeod said.
The IOC stripped Russia of its IOC membership last month following Moscow’s decision to claim regional sports organisations in occupied areas of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.
The IOC said these areas should be under the authority of Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee, and that the Russian move was a “breach of the Olympic Charter.”
But the Moscow organisers maintain they are not fighting the IOC by organising the lucrative “Friendship Games.”
“The goal of the Friendship Games was never to conflict with the IOC or create a competition against the Olympic movement. The Friendship Games were conceived as a harmonious addition to the existing international calendar, and this is particularly important for Russian athletes,” the games’ organising committee said in a statement on Thursday.
The problems in the management of global boxing started in 2017 after Taiwan’s C.K. Wu resigned as President of the IBA, then known as AIBA, following allegations over fight-fixing and financial irregularities.
Uzbekisan businessman Gafur Rakhimov was then elected President in 2018 but claims of his association with organised crime and drug trafficking forced his resignation after just 18 months in office.
And in came Kremlev in 2020, with the flamboyant Russian immediately, personally, clearing IBA’s $20 million (Sh3 billion) debts while maintaining that the sport is not “Russian sponsored”, contrary to IOC’s assertions that Russia’s energy giant Gazprom was bankrolling the sport.
Tomorrow: This man Kremlev, Moscow plays ‘Russia roulette’ with controversial “Friendship Games” and IBA’s court battles to gain IOC legitimacy.