Olympic boxing is facing an existential crisis, writes bloodyelbow.com. Earlier this month, the United States announced its intention to boycott the 2023 men’s and women’s world amateur boxing championships.
Within a matter of days, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, and the Czech Republic had followed suit, adding to the mounting pressure facing the International Boxing Association (IBA), the entity that organises the world championships and was the international governing body for the sport of boxing until 2019, when the IOC suspended its recognition of the federation.
The boycott, which was undertaken to protest the inclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the tournament, as well as IBA’s perceived governance issues, marked the latest development in a bitter power struggle between the United States and the Russian Federation—one that will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the sport’s Olympic future.
The IBA has since denounced the boycott in a letter published on its official website, claiming that there has since been a “steady stream of complaints from athletes, coaches, technical officials, and administrators that do not support this decision and need immediate support in making sure they can attend these events.
“To the leadership of National Federations that choose to use geopolitics as a means to play political games within boxing, IBA stands by the fact that athletes, coaches and officials from a country shall not be liable for any conduct of the management of their national federations or any political games,” IBA secretary general and CEO George Yerolimpos, said in the “message of support” published February 16, adding that the organiaation planned to offer financial support to any boxers impacted by the boycotts to help ensure their participation at the upcoming tournaments.
The IBA also confirmed that athletes from 77 national federations, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Italy, Kazakhstan, and Morocco, have confirmed their participation at the women’s world championships, which is scheduled to hold between March 15 and 26 in New Delhi, India, while the men’s tournament will hold two months later in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
The stated reason for the U.S.-led boycott is the boxing body’s decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete with their national flags and anthems—a decision that defies International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in more than 300,000 casualties on both sides. However, the IOC has long been in conflict with IBA over a series of corruption scandals, accusations of bad governance, and concerns about IBA President Umar Kremlev’s alleged relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And though IBA has dismissed the boycott as nothing more than a “political game,” the current infighting among the federations is reflective of the shambolic state of Olympic boxing and the ongoing fight for control over the sport’s governance.
In January 2018, IBA—then known as AIBA—named Gafur Rakhimov as its interim president. The U.S. believes Rakhimov is involved in organized crime and international trafficking of heroin.
The announcement took place less than a month after the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions targeting Rakhimov for providing “material support” to the Thieves-in-Laws, a notorious Eurasian criminal syndicate linked to illegal activity around the world.
Rakhimov, who was AIBA’s longest-serving vice-president, was also accused of being a member of the so-called ‘Brother’s Circle,’ an international criminal group involved in drug trafficking. Rakhimov has long denied any wrongdoing.
At the time, Rakhimov’s ascension to the AIBA presidency marked the latest in a series of scandals that had plagued boxing’s governing body over the past few years. This included reports of match-fixing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio (later confirmed through investigations), and financial malpractice under the leadership of Wu Ching-kuo, who was suspended from his position following allegations of widespread corruption.
Rakhimov, who replaced Wu as AIBA president, remained in his role until he officially tended his resignation in July 2019, one month after IOC voted to suspend its recognition of AIBA as the governing body for the sport, stripping AIBA of any involvement in the Olympic Games. Qualification for boxing events at Tokyo 2020 where overseen by a committee, while the Paris 2024 qualifications are being overseen by the IOC.
AIBA was excluded from organizing boxing at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, as well as the Paris 2024 Games. Boxing has also been left off the list of sports for the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, further emphasizing the deterioration of amateur boxing at an international level.