He only speaks Russian. Rather embarrassing for the president of an international federation. In Russian, from the first word to the last, leaving the interpreters the task of relaying his words. But Umar Kremlev (photo above), the imposing head of the International Boxing Association (IBA), knows how to make himself heard.
On Thursday November 16, he invited the press to a grand hotel in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. The host city of the next Summer Olympics, where his sport and its athletes will be present, but his authority persona non grata. The choice of venue was no coincidence. Nor the timing of this press conference, organized on the very day that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) examined the IBA’s appeal against its exclusion from the Olympic movement by the IOC.
For the occasion, Umar Kremlev chose to surround himself with two French boxers. Not the most anonymous. On his left, Estelle Mossely, Olympic champion at the Rio 2016 Games and IBA ambassador, now wearing the double hat of boxer and fight promoter. On her right, Sofiane Oumiha, the strongest boxer of the moment, three-time world amateur champion and world title-holder in the under 60 kg class.
Umar Kremlev let them speak for a long time, without trying to monopolize speaking time. He didn’t hold back a discreet smile as he heard each of them assure us, with convinced faces, that the IBA remained the home of boxers, the only one capable of offering them the conditions and means to pursue their careers.
The Russian leader took advantage of their presence to set out his plans for France: two Champion’s Nights in 2024, in Lyon and Paris, the forthcoming opening of an IBA academy, and above all the organization of the world championships in 2025. The announcement took everyone by surprise, starting with the French Boxing Federation (FFB), which had not yet been consulted on the project. Umar Kremlev explained: “The idea came from Estelle Mossely. We’ll discuss it later with the French federation.” Difficult to do without.
For the rest, Umar Kremlev was true to form. He’s just like Umar Kremlev, handing out hard-hitting formulas, willingly playing the provocative game, abandoning the usual langue de bois to deliver a speech in which, let’s be clear, it wasn’t always easy to disentangle the true from the false, the info from the intoxicating.
An appeal to CAS against the IOC’s decision to withdraw Olympic recognition from the IBA? “If we don’t win, we’ll take the case to the Swiss Supreme Court, replied the Russian leader calmly. We’ll go all the way. This decision was not taken by the Olympic family, but by sports officials. In boxing, it’s often said that you have to take two steps back to get a knockout. Sometimes you come out on top, sometimes you come out second. We will defend our rights, you can be sure of that.”
The creation of World Boxing and the departure of several national federations to the new body? Umar Kremlev did not evade the question. True to his line of conduct, he referred to the boxers, the only ones in a position to make such a decision, in his opinion. “To those who have decided to leave the IBA, I want to tell them to leave sport and go into politics, he explained. Look at what happened in Switzerland: the president of the federation decided to leave the IBA, but the boxers objected and he had to resign.”
Then the Russian leader spread out his figures. The first was well known: 171, the number of national federations announced at the next IBA congress on Saturday December 9 in Dubai. The second was less so: 204, the number of federations still members of the body. “We had 204 (before the creation of World Boxing, editor’s note), we’ll always have 204”, assured Umar Kremlev, implying that the IBA had already created national boxing organizations in the countries that had left to join World Boxing.
Uncertainty over the presence of boxing at the Los Angeles 2028 Games? Once again, the answer was not one of nuance. “If our sport disappears from the Games, it won’t be a problem for boxing but for the Olympics. Professional boxers are much more popular than amateurs. And they can make a much easier living from their sport.”
In Paris on Thursday November 16, Umar Kremlev talked a lot about money. He’s used to that. Money and even gold. The IBA President spoke at length about the importance of prize money in international tournaments. He proposed that bonuses be distributed to medal winners at the Paris 2024 Games, assuring that he had written to this effect to the IOC and its president, Thomas Bach. “I can act as their consultant on this subject,” he quipped.
Umar Kremlev even suggested, going so far as to repeat himself, that the medals at the Paris 2024 Games be made of solid gold for the winners. Failing silver, they could then walk away with a good weight of gold.