Olympic boxing faces uncertain future amid leadership vote

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Suspicions of corruption in Olympic boxing have existed for decades, including allegations that fights were fixed at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. Now the continued accusations of mismanagement within its governing body could push the sport outside the Olympics.

Boxing is not on the International Olympic Committee’s preliminary program for the Los Angeles Games in 2028, and while the sport’s status could be restored next year, concerns over its leadership make that far from certain. Some see the results of this weekend’s International Boxing Association presidential vote as perhaps the sport’s last chance to remain in the Olympics after 2024. Russian incumbent Umar Kremlev takes on Dutch challenger Boris van der Vorst in an election, the IOC said in a recent letter. in the Kremlev will be “carefully assessed”.

“For me, the deadline for boxing is based on the outcome of this election because of the failures of current management,” USA Boxing executive director Mike McAtee said.

Following the Rio scandal, the IOC took temporary control of the sport in 2018, setting up a boxing task force to direct competition at the Tokyo Olympics. Meanwhile, Kremlev was elected IBA president in 2020 and offered assurances he would oversee reform of the organization, hiring Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, who investigated the sponsored doping scheme by the Russian state at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, to investigate Rio’s allegations. McLaren’s report, published a year ago, detailed several instances of corruption and manipulation of results.

But Kremlev’s other actions raised eyebrows. He moved much of the organization’s operations from Lausanne, Switzerland to Russia, where he thanked President Vladimir Putin for his support of the country’s boxing program. He spent a lot on marketing that seemed to promote himself. He resisted calls for an outside organization to manage the assignment of judges and referees at events.

The IOC has also expressed concern that under Kremlev the only sponsor of the IBA is the Russian energy company Gazprom, which supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is “dependent” on a Russian bank branch. in Switzerland whose operations are limited by sanctions.

In a response to the IOC, the IBA said it ‘is confident it has implemented the vast majority of the recommended reforms’, defended its centralization of staff in Russia for ‘the continued smooth operation of the future’ and noted that she “worked extremely hard”. to train civil servants.

A separate email from an IBA spokesperson said the federation is “financially stable and has no financial problems at the moment”, adding that it will “announce two new sponsors for the foreseeable future. “. The email also addressed the IOC’s concerns about refereeing and judging at the recent Commonwealth Games, citing a yet-to-be-released report from McLaren calling it a “successful and trouble-free tournament”.

Adding to the intrigue, Sunday’s vote will be the second in six months. Kremlev and van der Vorst were supposed to face off in May, but on the eve of the vote, the IBA Ethics Committee disqualified van der Vorst for “early campaigning”. Over the summer, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in favor of van der Vorst, forcing a new election. At that time, the IOC announced that it would support boxing for the Paris Olympics in 2024, as it did in Tokyo last year.

No matter how frustrated IOC leaders have become, they are reluctant to drop boxing because it is one of the most racially diverse sports at the Olympics, with fighters coming from all sorts of backgrounds. , as opposed to many of the Games’ niche sports. sports that tend to attract athletes from more affluent families who can afford exorbitant training costs.

The 2012 addition of female fighters has helped give boxing one of the most unusual areas of competition at the Olympics. With many fighters coming from underserved communities where boxing gyms provide structure for kids who might not otherwise have it, the IOC doesn’t want to pull a critical source of funding for amateur fights.

In its letter to Kremlev, the IOC observed a ‘lack of real change’ in the management of the IBA and said the executive board ‘is unable to reverse’ its decision to leave boxing out of the Los Angeles program” and will continue to watch with serious concerns about IBA’s governance.

In addition to boxing, the IOC also left weightlifting (plagued by reports of a culture of doping) and modern pentathlon (being overhauled to replace horse jumping as a discipline) from the original Los Angeles program. These sports have a chance to return, but they will compete with karate, lacrosse, cricket and others to include.

The IOC Executive Board will vote in the fall of 2023, but recommendations are expected in the coming months. The tone of the IOC letter worries McAtee.

“If you look at all [other sports the IOC can choose instead of boxing]how many times is [IOC President] Thomas Bach and all will say: “Why do we still deal with boxing?” ” he said.

The fear of many boxers is that once boxing leaves the Olympics it will never return, removing an event that was part of the ancient Greek Olympics and has been present at all but one Summer Games since. 1904 while removing an important source of income for amateur boxing organizations.

“It would be the end of [Olympic] boxing, and I cannot accept that,” van der Vorst said in an email. “I can’t even consider conceding and letting the boxers’ Olympic dream be destroyed.”

Later he added: “It’s more than just a race between Umar and me – it’s a real battle for the Olympic future of our old and beautiful sport.”


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