— Published 16 May 2022

With Umar Kremlev, boxing goes into crisis

Suicidal? Let’s bet on it. Already banished from the Olympic movement, and provisionally withdrawn from the programme of the Los Angeles 2028 Games, boxing has dug its grave again over the past weekend. It entrusted the destiny of its international body, the IBA (formerly AIBA), to a leader the IOC no longer wants to hear from: the Russian Umar Kremlev (photo above).

Organised on the sidelines of the Women’s World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, the third IBA presidential election in less than four years produced a result that was certainly familiar, but borrowed from a disaster movie scenario. Umar Kremlev, the only candidate running for the presidential post, was re-elected by acclamation.

By acclamation, no less. The national boxing representatives happily clapped their hands and re-elected for another four years a leader whose nationality and links to the Moscow regime pose a serious threat to the Olympic future of their sport.

As is often the case in boxing, nothing was easy in delivering an election worthy of a banana republic. Two men were expected to compete for the IBA throne: Umar Kremlev, the incumbent, who was elected for the first time at the end of 2020, and Dutchman Boris van der Vorst, who was already in the running during the previous presidential election.

But in the first hitch in the democratic process, the challenger was sent to the mat before the fight even began. The IBA’s independent integrity unit ruled his candidacy inadmissible on Thursday 12 May, the day before the vote. At issue was Boris van der Vorst’s participation in a coalition of nearly twenty countries calling for the departure of Umar Kremlev in reaction to the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army, and denouncing the IBA’s links with the Russian giant Gazprom.

Boris van der Vorst immediately referred the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Pending the verdict of the Lausanne-based court, Umar Kremlev requested a postponement of the election, initially scheduled for Friday 13 May. The Russian leader is a great lord.

The CAS decision, unfavourable to the Dutch candidate, came down on Friday evening. Now alone in the race, Umar Kremlev was re-elected the next day as head of the IBA. He is now the only Russian leader, along with Vladimir Lisin in shooting (ISSF), to actively chair an international federation in an Olympic sport.

In the wake of this, the international body has a new board of directors. Among the ten members elected on Saturday 14 May in Istanbul, the three candidates who obtained the most votes were three female leaders: the American Elise Seignolle (106 votes), the representative of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) Pearl Dlamini (88 votes), and the Australian boxer Kristy Harris (84 votes).

In Lausanne, the election result was greeted as an affront. An IOC spokesperson explained: “The various IOC concerns, including the financial dependency on the state-owned company Gazprom, are still not resolved“. The Olympic body suggested in a statement: “The events surrounding IBA’s general assembly, in particular the elections, merit careful analysis and are just reinforcing the questions and doubts around IBA’s governance.”

The IOC has been saying for months that it is closely monitoring the situation of the IBA, especially in terms of governance and financial transparency. It warns without holding back its words that, if it does not present a more acceptable copy, boxing could lose its place at the Summer Games for good. But his threats were ignored by the IBA.

The situation of the IBA and the Olympic future of boxing will be high on the agenda of the next two-day meeting of the IOC Executive Board in Lausanne this week. Thomas Bach and his entourage will receive “an update on the latest developments within the IBA“, a spokesperson for the body said. It promises to be a decisive week.