Olympic boxing at maximum risk: ‘The clock is ticking’ | ‘IBA doesn’t get it,’ says USA

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The nightmare scenario for Olympic boxing is creeping ever closer. Boxing is on the brink of having its expulsion from the 2028 Games confirmed and is only beginning to grapple with the ramifications that would have across every level of the sport.

The current leadership of IBA, the world governing body for amateur boxing, has been lambasted for failing to reform itself and failing to satisfy the requirements the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has for it to remain an Olympic sport.

“Quite frankly the current leadership has failed to do the basics of just good proper governance. I think the IOC is going to have to come out strong,” the executive director of USA Boxing, Mike McAtee told Sky Sports.

Boxing's place as an Olympic sport is in doubt (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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Boxing’s future as an Olympic sport is in grave doubt (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“We’re concerned about it because not only does it impact our boxers but every boxer and wannabe boxer across the world. The implications of failed leadership at the IBA level will impact from eight-year-olds in the United States of America to Olympians in European, Africa and Asia.

“It’s about proper governance, it’s about taking care of the athletes, it’s about fair play, it’s about ethics, it’s about cultural change and IBA doesn’t seem to get it.”

The problems date back to the IOC’s expectation that the IBA resolve its issues with governance, problems with alleged corruption and dubious officiating as well as its financial footing.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Boris van der Vorst had been unfairly denied the opportunity to run against Russian businessman Umar Kremlev earlier this year for the role of IBA president. Following that an Extraordinary Congress was held in Yerevan, Armenia on September 25 to allow IBA to rerun the election for president. However, IBA delegates voted against even holding that election.

This has worsened the crisis. The IOC subsequently reiterated they were “extremely concerned” about the IBA and promised to review the situation.

“I am not the IOC but I can speak for myself and I am deeply shocked about the IBA and such flagrant disregard for the ruling of CAS and I think I have the same grave concerns that were expressed by the IOC,” said Van der Vorst, who has now twice been denied the opportunity to run in an actual election for IBA president.

Anthony Joshua is just one of the superstars that made their name at an Olympic Games (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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Anthony Joshua is just one of the superstars that made their name at an Olympic Games (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“I think there was no proper democratic process there. So for me still it’s unbelievable that they organised it in the way they did in Yerevan. For me most importantly it was really a missed chance for the boxers, the coaches, just the whole boxing society deserves a fair and democratic process and that was no happening there in Yerevan.

“It was very disappointing.”

Boxing’s Olympic future remains perilous. The sport has not been included on the Olympic programme for 2028 and time is rapidly running out for attempts to reverse that.

IBA has robustly defended itself. “The IBA believes that the IOC is misinformed about its current state, as it was surprising to learn that the IOC is concerned about the democratic decision of the IBA Congress, which should be respected by all parties, including internal stakeholders, as a decision of the main boxing governing body,” an IBA spokesperson told Sky Sports.

“There could be no discrepancies, as it is absolutely definitive. The national federations expressed their will and gave a credit of trust to the current leadership, in particular, to Mr Kremlev.

“IBA is delivering and overdelivering every day for the well-being of its athletes, as well as for their Olympic future. Boxing deserves to have a place in the Games programme, and IBA will do its utmost to keep implementing reforms and making the sport better.

America has a long history in Olympic boxing, with boxers like Floyd Mayweather and Shakur Stevenson (right) coming through
Image:
America has a long history in Olympic boxing, with boxers like Floyd Mayweather and Shakur Stevenson (right) coming through

“A lot has been achieved so far, including in three areas of the IOC ‘concern’: governance, refereeing and judging, and finance.

“IBA has done a huge job. With the help of independent experts, we improved our governance and created a pool of trustworthy R&Js [referees and judges], whose background was carefully checked. All debts were wiped off, and now IBA is stable financially.”

IBA has been widely criticised for suspending the Ukrainian boxing federation, which was not allowed to vote at the Congress, though does say that it recommended the Ukrainian junior team be allowed to box under their national symbols, their flag and anthem, at the recent European championships.

IBA does not recognise Kyrylo Shevchenko as president of the Ukrainian federation but instead considers Volodymyr Prodyvus, who left Ukraine after the Russian invasion of the country in February and is now an IBA vice-president, as head.

“According to the decision of the board of directors of September 23 made in compliance with the IBA constitution and regulations, the membership of the Ukrainian Boxing Federation has been suspended. Based on the IBA constitution, the suspension means that a national federation shall lapse its rights during a period of suspension,” IBA stated.

On Wednesday IBA announced that it would allow athletes and technical officials from Russia and Belarus to take part in their events now, saying: “The IBA strongly believes that politics shouldn’t have any influence on sports. Hence, all athletes should be given equal conditions.” They had been banned earlier this year following the recommendations the IOC set out after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Umar Kremlev (right) with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the opening of a boxing centre last month (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
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Umar Kremlev (right) with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the opening of a boxing centre last month (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The wider picture for boxing as an Olympic sport remains bleak. The IOC has brought back its Task Force to run boxing in the next Olympics, so the sport will feature at Paris 2024. But there is no sign that the Task Force would continue after that with boxing remaining off the programme for LA 2028 and in need of a significant breakthrough to be restored to the Games after Paris.

“I was really fighting and campaigning to ensure the re-inclusion of IBA and boxing into the Olympic movement,” Van der Vorst maintained. “The main part of their [IBA’s] mission is to be part of the Olympic charter, part of the Olympic movement and I think that they are not doing a good job in that.

“What I wanted to propose during the Congress was another avenue but it was not permitted for me to speak there.

“We have a legacy also to protect for our boxers. The Olympics is really something important.”

America has a proud boxing history and the US is the host country of what is increasingly likely to be the first Olympics ever to not feature the sport.

“I think the IOC has been extremely tolerant. They understand that Olympic style boxing is not just important in the United States and not just important to Western European but to the whole world,” McAtee said.

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“I do think that they worked hand in hand in trying to help IBA but at the end of the day it has come to a head.”

Van der Vorst pointed out: “The IOC did something very good for boxing, really good for boxing. Despite all the wrongdoings they kept boxing at the Olympics in Tokyo and even now for Paris.

“They took over the qualification and the organisation of the tournament in Paris and in Tokyo. That’s never happened before, that for a sport two times in a row they created the Boxing Task Force just to make sure boxing will be at the Olympics.

“We have to be really thankful for the IOC for that. It’s now on us, the boxing community to take more responsibility.”

But time has almost run out. “The clock is ticking, really ticking. We have to take the responsibility to show the IOC our willingness, our striving to be part of the Olympic movement,” Van der Vorst said. “I have boxer’s mentality. We have had several eight counts. That’s definitely true but we haven’t been knocked out yet so we keep fighting.

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“We have to fight together. There has to be teamwork and we have to work together to keep boxing at the Olympics.”

The stakes for the whole of the sport are high. McAtee said: “Having a medal around your neck, representing your country, it’s awe-inspiring. I talk to our boxers that said they practised for that moment when they were 12 years old, eight years old, 16 years old, for that moment and the Olympics is the highest level of sport in the world and we need to be in it.

“And that’s why it’s important that we honour the IOC and understand being part of the Olympic movement, it’s a privilege and it’s not a right.”



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