Umar Kremlev

International Boxing Association (AIBA) President Umar Kremlev (left) with Boxing Federation of Kenya (BFK) President Anthony "Jamal" Otieno at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi during his tour on February 7,2021.

| Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Wind of change in African boxing as Kremlev on charm offensive

What you need to know:

  • Boxing’s ‘scramble for Africa’ is headed for interesting times  with the global management of the sport split into two... International Boxing Association President Umar Kremlev has launched a charm offensive on the continent with a whirlwind tour as rivals World Boxing prepare to regroup for their inaugural electoral Congress in Frankfurt this weekend.

An exuberant mood spiced up the arrival of International Boxing Association (IBA) President Umar Kremlev and the new sheriff in town, Ethiopian Eyassu Wossen Berhanu, at Ethiopia’s largest hotel, the Skylight, last Saturday.

Amidst a tinkle of glasses as guests munched their delicious lunch at the exotic hotel owned by Ethiopian Airlines, a new wind of change blowing in Africa boxing was visible.

Excited senior boxing officials from all over the continent stood up to shake hands with the two boxing billionaires as they arrived at the hotel. That was soon after Berhanu was declared the new Africa Boxing Confederation (AFBC) President during the elections held at the Africa Union Conference Centre.

In his whirlwind tour, Kremlev was there to witness this grand occasion having arrived from Paris where he addressed a hybrid press conference.

Umar Kremlev

International Boxing Association President Umar Kremlev (left) and Africa Boxing Confederation President Eyassu Wossen Berhanu shake hands in delight after laying the foundation stone for the construction of a major sports complex in Addis Ababa on Saturday, November 18, 2023.

Photo credit: Pool

An extremely delighted Berhanu was by Kremlev’s side, acknowledging hi-fivers from the smiling delegates and other boxing stakeholders obviously showing great expectations from this humble Ethiopian business magnate who has promised to transform boxing in Africa and inject professionalism on the management of the sport.

Kremlev then left on Saturday night in his private jet heading to Kampala, landing at the Entebbe International Airport at around 10pm. He was met by Uganda’s Sports Minister Peter Ogwang, Uganda Boxing Federation President Moses Muhangi and National Council of Sports Chairman Ambrose Tashobya.

 “I feel happy to be at home, Uganda is now a home to me,” said Kremlev on disembarking from his jet. The highlight of Kremlev’s one-day tour of Uganda was a visit to the famous dancers at Masaka Kids Africana and Masaka Boxing Club where he donated boxing gear and cash totalling $100,000 (Sh15.2 million) for the development of grassroots boxing. “This is a great achievement for us to welcome the IBA President for the second time in Uganda, we feel greatly honoured,” said Muhangi.

As he boarded his jet heading to Montenegro for the European Under-22 Boxing Championships ending today, Kremlev left a lasting impression and smiling faces especially his donation for grassroots boxing which is also the focus of the newly-elected AFBC President Berhanu.

Umar Kremlev

International Boxing Association (AIBA) President Umar Kremlev(right) with Boxing Federation of Kenya (BFK) President Anthony "Jamal" Otieno at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi during his tour on February 7,2021.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

“This is the backbone our future success in Africa boxing, we must invest heavily in grassroots boxing and coaches who groom future champs in order to conquer the world,” says Berhanu who plans to host a junior and youth tournament in Addis Ababa next year to launch his ambitious junior and youth project.

Unlike their counterparts in Asia and Europe, AFBC affiliates have never had a systematic junior and youth programme, save for occasional tournaments taking place but with no proper structures in place.

Widely viewed as Africa’s very own Kremlev, the Berhanu has promised to change the face of Africa boxing using his deep pockets, business acumen and through his international connections, including backing from the Ethiopian government.

He is planning to construct an all-purpose sports complex to host major international boxing tournaments in Addis Ababa.

Umar Kremlev

International Boxing Association President Umar Kremlev (left) receives a painting from Uganda Boxing Association President Moses Muhangi in Kampala on November 19, 2023.

Photo credit: Pool

The construction of the complex was launched by Kremlev at the weekend. Expectations are high in African boxing under the leadership of Berhanu.

Here’s what some boxing stakeholders expect from Berhanu:

AFBC head of Women and Diversity Committee, Irene Ntelemo from Botswana:

“The biggest problem with the development of women boxing is financial limitations and also how the funds in federations are distributed in accordance with the activities.  

“National federations that are cash-strapped give preference to male boxers’ activities over women’s. We hope the new president will change this mindset.”

Africa Boxing Confederation  Competitions Committee Chairman and President of Sierra Leone Boxing Federation, Solomon Kargbo:

“It’s the dawn of a new era in Africa boxing as President Berhanu has said. We want to see more competitions introduced to keep our boxers busy and improve on our standards. I will work very closely with Berhanu to assist him realise his goals.’’

Botswana Boxing Association Secretary-General Taolo Tlouetsile: “The greatest assignment is to make zones more functional and make sure NFs attend AFBC meetings.

“Berhanu should also empower the zones and most important work closely with the media as well as having a functional media department in AFBC. This is very crucial for his success.”
Former Kenyan female international boxer Durry Wanjiku, now a coach:

“We would expect him to organise more courses for women coaches, empower AFBC Diversity Commission with resources to run their programs and introduce youth and junior competitions.”
Cuban Businge, a former Ugandan international boxer:

“Women, coaches and RJs should be represented in NFs executive committees. We need big sponsors to be brought on board and Berhanu should also make sure African boxers are paid prize money promptly after the competitions.”

Kenyan grassroots coach Kenneth “Valdez” Ochieng who’s also a former top international boxer:
“On behalf of other grassroots coaches in Africa, I’m happy to note the new AFBC President values the importance of grassroots boxing and the coaches involved but he should not just be making statements from the comfort of his office.

“We need to see him visiting grassroots coaches in various African countries to walk the talk. Let him emulate IBA’s globe-trotting President Umar Kremlev.”

First ever elections

With Kremlev having launched an IBA charm offensive in Africa, rival World Boxing will hold its inaugural electoral Congress in Frankfurt this week on Friday and Saturday.

“The Congress will host World Boxing’s first ever elections when members will vote for a range of offices including President, Vice President and places on World Boxing’s Executive Board along with the Chairs of the Sport and Competition Committee, the Medical and Anti-Doping Committee and the Finance and Audit Committee,” World Boxing said on its website.

“Other items on the agenda include: the formal approval of World Boxing Statutes; the formal approval of applications by National Federations for membership and associate membership of World Boxing; and the approval of World Boxing’s strategic plan and budget.

“All the National Federations that have joined World Boxing will be eligible to take part in the Congress and vote in the elections which have received more than 40 nominations.”

Dutchman Boris van der Vorst, who decamped from the IBA after falling out with Kremlev’s camp at IBA’s 2022 Extraordinary Assembly in Armenia, is up against a female opponent, USA’s Elise Seignolle, another defector from the IBA, for the World Boxing Presidency.

Interestingly, there is no African shortlisted from the over 40 nominations for the various positions ahead of the Frankfurt assembly.

Meanwhile, after his election last Saturday, Berhanu will now serve as one of the IBA’s 13 directors until 2026 with another African, Eswatini’s Pearl Beverly Muir-Dlamini, also among the Board of Directors.

Muir-Dlamini is amongst the few first female Presidents in Boxing the entire World having served as President of Botswana’s boxing federation for eight years from 2011 to 2020.

Additional reporting by Elias Makori