Lifetime bans await the referees and judges that have been named in Richard McLaren’s boxing corruption report if they are found guilty. “They will forever be expelled and won’t be admitted to boxing events even as spectators,” the International Boxing Association [IBA] president Umar Kremlev declared at a press conference on December 13, which followed the association’s Extraordinary Congress held the day before.

It was exactly a year ago, on December 13, 2020, that the Russian took the helm of the amateur boxing governing body – and its chequered past – and he believes his administration is on the right track for a bright boxing future, which includes restoring their Olympic status.

MCLAREN REPORT Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, who has since June been saddled with the task of investigating corruption in the sport, has not only found evidence of “corruption, bribery and the manipulation of sporting results” at the Rio 2016 Olympics, with referees and judges discussing results beforehand and judges giving each other signals at ringside, but has also revealed that manipulation of bouts “flourished” at several major boxing events after the Games in Rio, up to as recently as the World Junior Boxing Championships in Poland in April.

Stage One of the independent investigation, which was published in September, found that allegations of corruption have bedevilled the IBA since well before the Athens Games in 2004 and there existed a culture of “favours”, particularly among the post-Soviet countries which has also influenced the governing body in the past, like Azerbaijan giving the then AIBA a 10 million USD investment loan and expecting bouts to be manipulated in their favour.

Kremlev reiterated at the press conference on Monday that IBA welcomes the results of McLaren’s three-stage investigation because they have “nothing to hide” and will take action “as soon as our legal experts as well as our ethics and disciplinary committees conduct their investigations”, which might include reallocating medals of fixed fights that are within their jurisdiction. Eleven suspicious bouts at the 2016 Olympic Games are being investigated, however Kremlev said reallocating the medals for those Olympic bouts if they are proven to have been fixed would be up to the IOC.

REFEREEING AND JUDGING In the meantime, efforts are being made to ensure fair bouts henceforth. “We actually spent a good half of the last year improving our governance system and our regulations, implemented significant changes and improvements to make sure our competitions are at the highest possible level. We have implemented rigorous elibility checks and vetting procedures for our officials. Next year, we also expect that the reforms implemented in the field of refereeing and judging will lead to their recertification.”

CONGRESS According to Kremlev, the Extraordinary Congress of the International Boxing Association held online on December 12 “sets the scene for a stable future for our organisation”. He added: “We are ready to reach new heights. Let the new era of boxing begin.” The Congress saw the amendment of the organisation’s constitution – including the launch of a new Boxing Independent Integrity Unit – as well as a new logo and acronym – from AIBA to IBA – that are at the heart of the organisation’s new visual identity. IBA had changed its full name to “International Boxing Association” in 2007, but maintained its previous acronym of AIBA, which referred to the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur. Kremlev said 107 national associations voting to unanimously adopt the new governance reforms “shows their commitment to integrity” and opens a new page for the IBA.

The press release from IBA after the Congress reads: “Included among the amendments were the creation of a new Boxing Independent Integrity Unit, which is expected to become operational in the course of 2022. The Board of Directors will be reduced from 28 members to 18, following elections which will be held by June 30. Candidates for election will be subject to extensive eligibility checks which will be conducted independently. Very extensive changes to the Board’s composition are expected, based on the imposition of term limits and enhanced eligibility criteria.”

HUGE PROGRESS Kremlev said IBA has made huge progress across the three key areas pointed out by the International Olympic Committee – finance, governance, refereeing and judging – and has a good chance of getting reinstated to the Olympic Movement in 2023. He stated that IBA has secured financial stability, with the independent audit concluded by a Swiss company confirming that “IBA is currently at a much better state than a year ago”. This has been achieved with the help of IBA’s General Partner, Gazprom. He said IBA can now provide financial support to its member associations and also offer prize money to championships winners for the first time in the association’s history.

In response to a question about why IBA decided to introduce prize money, Kremlev said: “At the World Championships in Belgrade we had $100,000 for the first prize, and $50,000 for the second prize and $25,000 for the third prize. And we’re planning on increasing the prize money. It is important for every athlete to represent their country, to see their flags going up and to hear the anthem of their countries. But we need to create a good environment for our athletes. We need to attract athletes and everything that comes to us as our revenue should be reinvested in our athletes. We want the parents to be sure that if their children are training to be boxers, they will not only have something that they love to do, but they will also make money.”

OLYMPIC GAMES “Thanks to our huge progress, we now have the chance to define our sport’s Olympic future,” Kremlev said. “Together with the IOC we will start working on recommendations for weight categories for Paris 2024. We will also work on developing the Olympic qualification system for boxing,” he added, expressing gratitude to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the opportunity. Like at the Tokyo 2020 Games, the IOC will be in charge of boxing competitions at the Paris 2024 Games, however the sport did not make the initial Olympic programme for Los Angeles 2028 and IBA has been offered a second chance to earn a place. Kremlev said it wasn’t a surprise to him that boxing were left out of the initial LA 2028 programme, he is however thankful to the IOC for coming up with a “roadmap that will lead to our reinstatement at the IOC Session in 2023”.

Source: Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam| AIPS Media