*Written by Joseph Pious
One of the greatest sporting events, Olympic Boxing has a long and storied history dating back to the ancient Olympic Games in Greece. Its long-standing involvement in the Olympics adds to its reputation and significance. Iconic bouts, dramatic comebacks, and remarkable displays of skill have left lasting impressions on fans worldwide. Legendary boxers like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, and many others have showcased their talents and created indelible memories in Olympic boxing.
Olympic boxing gives a platform for boxers from many countries and backgrounds to compete against one another, boosting cultural exchange and developing international camaraderie. However, Olympic boxing differs from Professional boxing in several aspects: Olympic boxing features amateur athletes, while professional boxing involves paid fighters. The round and bout duration, scoring systems, protective gear, and eligibility criteria vary between the two. Professional boxers compete for prize money and sign contracts, while Olympic boxers focus on amateur honours and the pursuit of Olympic glory. Putting an emphasis on amateurs guarantees that the sport remains centred on the competition's purity rather than financial motivations. It provides an opportunity for bright young boxers to demonstrate their abilities and potentially establish their professional careers.
Olympic-style amateur boxing contests are sanctioned and governed by the International Boxing Association (IBA), previously known as Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur (AIBA), an International Sports Organization with 5 Confederations and 201 Member Federations.(1.) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized the IBA as the International regulatory body of boxing sport until 2019, post which the IOC stripped the IBA of recognition over long-standing financial, sports integrity allegations of irregularities in referring and judging at the Olympics, and governance issues. As a result, the IOC personally ran the qualifications and the boxing competition in the 2021 games in Tokyo, keeping the IBA not involved.
The International Olympic Committee executive board on 7 June 2023 recommended withdrawing recognition of the IBA in accordance with Rule 3.7 of the Olympic Charter (OC). (2) The derecognition decision is based on a comprehensive report by the IOC on the situation of the IBA establishing that the IBA has failed to fulfill the conditions set by the IOC for lifting the suspension of the IBA’s recognition. (3) The decision now only requires the approval of an extraordinary IOC session, which will be held remotely and scheduled for June 22, 2023.
Boxing will be included in the Paris 2024 Olympics. However, the qualifications and the competition will be supervised by the IOC instead of the IBA, as was the case for the Tokyo 2021 Games. Nothing is concrete as to whether boxing would be included in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, but it is highly unlikely that IBA would be organizing it, especially with the creation of a new boxing organization ‘Word Boxing’ with the hope to salvage boxing's Olympic future.
Why The IOC Requires Immediate Derecognition Of The IBA?
The International Olympic Committee Session in its 2019 session, found AIBA as non-compliant with the Olympic Charter with sufficient grounds to withdraw its recognition. However, the IOC took a step back concerned with the protection of boxing athletes and the maintenance of the sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and decided to only suspend AIBA'S recognition. This decision was not contested or challenged legally by AIBA.
Long-Standing Tussle Between IOC And IBA
IOC Session's 2019 decision was based on certain facts- the numerous allegations regarding the refereeing and judging during the four previous Olympic Games from 2004 to 2016, as well as the financial issues and numerous instances of disregarding fundamental governance standards, in violation of the Olympic Charter and the IOC Code of Ethics. (4) The inquiry committee of the IOC after arriving at a report justifying the withdrawal of AIBA, took into consideration the interests of boxing sports and its athletes and instead issued recommendations for AIBA to bring a significant change into the governance of boxing sport. It was decided to put AIBA's recognition by the IOC on suspension until the organization made sustainable changes. It was also decided to give time for the creation of a solution that would allow Olympic boxers to compete in qualification matches and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. As a result, the IOC Boxing Task Force (IOC BTF) was established to oversee the Olympic boxing competition at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, as well as the IOC Special Monitoring Committee to track AIBA's development in the different areas of concern. (5)
After the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020 were held in 2021 and the IOC BTF and IOC Special Monitoring Committee completed their separate assignments, the IOC Executive Board highlighted that there were still issues with AIBA's governance, finances, refereeing, and judging.
The IOC Executive Board mentioned certain conditions to be met by AIBA to the IOC's satisfaction for the suspension of recognition of AIBA to be lifted in 2023. It required AIBA to improve financial transparency through revenue diversification, to change its Refereeing and Judging (R & J) process to ensure its integrity under the monitoring of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the largest professional services firms, and to inculcate a culture change, through effective implementation of measures of the Governance Reform Group (GRG) set up under Prof. Haas and team. (6)
Following this, the AIBA's Extraordinary Congress made a number of decisions, including changing the organization's name to the International Boxing Association (IBA) and approving Prof. Haas led GRG's report on governance, which included constitutional modifications. However, these decisions were just a farce to cover up their non-compliance.
IBA – A rogue organization in the build
It is clearly evident that there was a lack of democracy in IBA, especially after the elections of the President and Board of Directors members were significantly impacted to exclude five individuals including the only other candidate for IBA presidency by a decision of the Independent Nominations Unit. Though this decision was later overturned by the CAS, elections were held by then, and the Russian businessman Umar Kremlev was re-elected as President. The IBA members decided against another presidential election for giving the second candidate an opportunity for free and fair elections.
In addition to this, IBA terminated Prof. Haas before his term and removed several other key personnel of the IBA effectively failing to implement the principles of good governance suggested by the GRG.
The IOC EB decided that the IBA was not qualified to organize the boxing competitions and qualifying events for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 due to the IBA's ongoing and troubling problems, including the issues with the qualification system that have not yet been resolved. In defiance of the IOC EB decision, the IBA announced its own qualifying process for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 to the boxing National Federations on February 20, 2023. (7) Due to some uncertainty caused by this declaration among boxing NFs, the IOC was forced to reaffirm the IOC qualification method to all National Olympic Committees.
Concerning financial sustainability, IBA heavily relied upon the Russian sponsor Gazprom, a state gas company. The IOC EB notes that the IBA's ability to discover new, sustainable sources of income will determine whether it can continue to operate after June 30, 2023. Moreover, no new sources of revenue or newly signed contracts were demonstrated by IBA as of the cut-off date. (8) As a result, the reliance on a state-owned previous sponsor and the lack of sustainable finance have not been addressed, showing that the IBA did not successfully enhance its culture of financial governance and satisfy the requirements outlined by the IOC.
Moreover, the IOC had mandated the appointment of some experts to carry out an analysis of the situation at IBA- Ernst & Young for reviewing finance and PwC to continue reviewing the R&J process. The IBA, however, imposed on EY and PwC extra prerequisites, such as the execution of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), the wording of which would have essentially precluded the experts from disclosing all of their conclusions to the IOC. (9) Due to this, EY was unable to access all financial records and PwC was unable to attend the IBA Women's World Boxing Championships in March 2023 in India. The IBA had several possibilities to take concrete actions to alter its practises and operations, but the fact that the IBA, from the leadership to the most fundamental levels of governance, did not take advantage of these chances shows that it lacks comprehension and a genuine desire to reform.
The IOC recently wanted Russian athletes to compete in the sport as neutral competitors due to their invasion of Ukraine, but Kremlev's IBA has permitted them to compete at world boxing championships while wearing national flags and anthems, earning another reprimand from the IOC. Because of Russia's stance and broader worries about the IBA, more than 10 nations, including the United States and Britain, declared boycotts of the recent women's world championships and the forthcoming men's world championships. (10)
As a result the IOC in its comprehensive report arrived at the conclusion to withdraw IBA’s recognition and decided that IBA should not organize the boxing tournament in 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games. (11)
Future Of Olympic Boxing
With the decision to derecognize IBA, the future of Olympic Boxing looks alarming. This can have huge repercussions on amateur boxing as National Federations and athletes will be left in a pit unable to take part in any competitions. As of now, boxing sport will be at the mercy of IOC for organizing their competitions in the Olympics as seen with the Tokyo and Paris Games.
In order to guarantee the long-term survival of the sport in the Olympic Games, a number of national federations, notably those of the United States and Britain, have launched a new organization called World Boxing. The IBA, which has been around for 77 years, will face competition from the new federation, even though World Boxing has officially not received any recognition from IOC.
Athletes and officials, including Lee and GB Boxing CEO Matthew Holt, will make up the board of World Boxing, which will have its headquarters in Switzerland. Lauren Price of the United Kingdom, the gold medallist at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, and silver medallist Richard Torrez Jr. of the United States serve as athlete representatives on the board. (12) In November, there will be elections for a new board and a president. Germany, Britain, Netherlands, Philippines, Sweden, and the United States are all on the World Boxing's Interim Executive Board; however, USA Boxing is the only federation to have terminated its IBA membership. Although it has not yet accepted any members, the new organization is reaching out to national boxing associations all around the world.
Without identifying any particular financing sources, the new organization is running with a budget of 900,000 euros ($994,000) this year. That is a very modest portion of the IBA's resources, which include $100,000 for gold medallists at the women’s world championships and up to $200,000 for gold medallists at the traditional amateur men's competitions. (13)
Boxing was initially excluded from the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics schedule due to the long-standing dispute between the IBA. However, there is a ray of hope that can be ascertained from IOC’s new report that Boxing will be part of Los Angeles Games in 2028 but not to be organized by the IBA. At first glance, the future looks dark, but IOC has acted in accordance with the Olympic charter preventing a rogue organization like the IBA from controlling and exploiting the sport and its athletes.
Nevertheless, the launching of World Boxing as a potential organization to takeover IBA is a hopeful sight for the boxing world. Yes, it is true that World Boxing with limited finances will receive huge competition from the IBA, but at least the National Federations could be sure of a democratic organization with no illicit motives in World Boxing. It is yet to see whether IOC would recognize World Boxing, but the fate of IBA would be decided in IOC’s extraordinary Session on 22 June, 2023.
*The author is a lawyer from India.
(The image used here is for representative purposes only)
(1). ‘Federation Guineenne de Boxe’ (IBA - International Boxing Association) <www.iba.sport/federation/>
(2). Chapter 1, Rule 3.7, ‘Olympic Charter’ (17 July 2020) <https://stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/General/EN-Olympic-Charter.pdf>
(3). ‘IOC Comprehensive Report IBA’ (2 June 2023) <https://stillmed.olympics.com/media/Documents/News/2023/06/2023-06-IOC-Comprehensive-Report-IBA.pdf>
(4).‘IBA announces approved Olympic Qualification System for Paris 2024 athletes’ (IBA, 20 February 2023) <www.iba.sport/news/iba-announces-approved-olympic-qualification-system-for-paris-2024-athletes/>
(5). ‘U.S. joins new boxing group to save Games spot’ (ESPN, 23 April 2023) <www.espn.in/boxing/story/_/id/36177019/new-boxing-organization-hopes-salvage-olympic-future>
(6). John Dennen, ‘World Boxing: New federation launches aiming to keep boxing in the Olympic Games’ (Sky Sports, 13 April 2023) <www.skysports.com/boxing/news/12183/12856162/world-boxing-new-federation-launches-aiming-to-keep-boxing-in-the-olympic-games>