— Published 15 June 2022

Boris van der Vorst gets another round at the IBA

There is always something going on in the world of Olympic boxing. Episodes follow one another without any established order, leaving an impression of chaos that the players seem to live with as if it were second nature.

The latest one certainly deserves to be in the top ten. On Tuesday 14 January, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Dutchman Boris van der Vorst (pictured above, standing), a candidate for the presidency of the International Boxing Federation (IBA, formerly AIBA) before being excluded from the vote for alleged irregularities, should have been eligible.

His exclusion from the vote was not justified, the judges hearing the case said. He should have been able to stand for election against the incumbent president, Umar Kremlev of Russia, on Saturday 14 May in Istanbul.

According to CAS, the irregularities of which Boris van der Vorst was accused – having campaigned before the official opening – were minor. They did not justify his exclusion from the vote. The Lausanne-based court delivered the same verdict regarding the other plaintiffs, three leaders applying for official positions within the IBA, who were also pushed out before the vote.

Boris van der Vorst and the three others excluded deserved only “a light sanction such as a warning”, or no sanction at all, the Court of Arbitration for Sport suggested.

Better still, in its ruling, published on Tuesday 14 June, CAS found the outgoing president, Umar Kremlev, guilty of the same offences. He too was alleged to have campaigned outside the authorised period. However, he was not sanctioned. He was the only candidate for the top job and was re-elected by acclamation to the top job.

The facts are as follows. President of the Dutch Boxing Federation, Boris van der Vorst travelled to Istanbul for the extraordinary IBA congress, from 13 to 15 May last, with the assumed ambition to unseat Umar Kremlev and take the chair of the IBA president.

As the only rival of the outgoing president, he was not considered the favourite. But the geopolitical context – the conflict in Ukraine – could serve his interests. Above all, he offered an alternative to the outgoing president, Umar Kremlev, who was singled out by the IOC as a threat to the Olympic future of boxing.

On the eve of the vote, a major upset occurred in Istanbul: the Independent Boxing Integrity Unit (IBU) declared the Dutchman ineligible. Boris van der Vorst rushed to apply to CAS to try to delay the election. But his application was rejected. The next day, Umar Kremlev won without even having to go to the ballot box.

Once the election was over and the results announced, Boris van der Vorst did not put the gloves away. He appealed to the CAS. One month to the day after the election, the court has just ruled in his favour.

Question: will Umar Kremlev have to hand over the keys to his presidential office, at least temporarily? At this stage of the story, the answer is unclear.

When the CAS ruling was announced, the IBA soberly explained in a press release published on its website that it “takes note” of the court’s decision. The body said it would “seek legal advice on the implications and consider appropriate action on 24 June“, the date of its next board meeting in Lausanne. But it recalls that the decision to exclude the four candidates was taken by an independent body.

On the other side, the four complainants said they were “looking forward to cooperating with IBA to reinstate the election process as soon as possible”. The message is clear: Boris van der Vorst wants a new election. He hopes to do so as soon as possible. And he intends to try his luck again.

For the IOC, the CAS verdict sounds like good news. The Olympic body has never hidden the fact that it does not have the slightest confidence in Umar Kremlev to hold the reins of boxing. The prospect of seeing the Russian leave the scene and the IBA change its governance is no doubt not to his displeasure.

But the scenario of a new election, and especially of a defeat of Umar Kremlev, is far from being written. Boxing and its leaders have always known how to surprise their world.