— Published 13 October 2022

Facing the IOC, Umar Kremlev puts on the gloves

Nothing stops the International Boxing Federation (IBA) and its president, Umar Kremlev (pictured above). Nothing and no one. Banished from the Olympic movement, threatened to see his sport disappear from the programme of the Games in Los Angeles in 2028, the Russian leader could keep a low profile. He prefers to take the plunge.

A few weeks before an IOC Executive Board meeting where the fate of boxing could be decided for good, Umar Kremlev issued a “statement” on Wednesday 12 October to the Olympic body and its president, Thomas Bach. Relayed by the IBA, it raises questions about the strategy of an international federation whose Olympic future is hanging by a thread.

True to his line of conduct, Umar Kremlev is playing at provocation. He calls on the IOC to respect the principles of the Olympic movement by allowing all athletes to participate in international competitions.

The IBA has taken the first step towards equal opportunities and fairness,” writes Umar Kremlev in his statement. “The IBA will continue to do everything for the good of its athletes and coaches. We must create good conditions, not make them worse. I want to reiterate that sport is outside politics. We should have nothing in common with the politicians of the world.”

At no point in his text does Umar Kremlev directly mention Russia and Belarus. But his message is clear: the IBA president is an advocate for the return of athletes from the two warring countries to the international sports scene. As an advocate and as a leader, the IBA having opened the way by cancelling at the beginning of October, with immediate effect, the ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers from participating in international competitions. They are now allowed to put on the gloves and step into the ring without having to cover themselves with neutrality status.

“The IOC should reconsider its approach to all athletes,” says Umar Kremlev. “The decision to exclude some of them on the basis of their nationality is contrary to the principles of the Olympic movement, it is detrimental to all sports. I urge the IOC to open the door for athletes to continue to perform, and I urge the IOC to change its policy of excluding athletes.

The Russian leader remains steadfast. Clearly unconcerned about the consequences of a deliberately offensive stance, he closes his statement by addressing not just the IOC, but “the entire sporting world”. No less.

“Let all athletes compete,” wrote Umar Kremlev. “They are not political tools, they are the ones who suffer from political decisions. They do not deserve to be treated so badly by the whole sports community. Politicians do their job to promote their interests, and we have to do ours to protect our athletes and our sports. The world of sport is being blocked by politicians and, unfortunately, is losing its autonomy. There should be no political games played behind the backs of athletes. This is dangerous for the future of sport. The IOC must rectify the situation immediately. All athletes should be given the green light, because they are not guilty of anything.”

On the substance, Umar Kremlev is not wrong. In calling for the return of the Russian and Belarusian athletes, who were removed from the scene solely because of their nationality, he is following in the footsteps of an IOC which, in the words of its president Thomas Bach, is currently working on a way to bring them back into the game. But the Russian leader seems to forget that he is probably the last person in the Olympic movement to be able to say such a thing.