Reintegration of different federations from the United States and Switzerland; termination of the membership of German and Dutch federations; and an unequivocal stance hitting out against the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – these were the key takeaways from the Ordinary Congress of the International Boxing Association (IBA) held in Dubai on Saturday, which took place in the background of one of the most turbulent years in amateur boxing history.
For the first time in its 129-year history, the IOC kicked out a sports governing body from the Olympic family when it expelled the IBA in June after a four-year-long dispute over alleged financial instability, poor governance, and corruption in refereeing decisions.
In the aftermath, the IBA did not take charge of hosting the boxing event at the Tokyo Olympics, and will not be doing so in Paris next year either. For Los Angeles 2028, boxing has been left out of the initial programme entirely, and at the IOC session in Mumbai earlier this year, the Committee chief Thomas Bach said: “With the IBA there’s no ongoing process, for us the case is closed. There will be no boxing with IBA in the Olympic program. It’s done! Full stop!”
But according to IBA president, Russia’s Umar Kremlev, any looming existential threats to amateur boxing are overblown. “There is going to be boxing at LA 2028. And that’s only because it won’t be boxing that misses the Olympic games, it’s the Olympic games that will miss the event of boxing. Boxing is one of the most popular sports in the programme. The IOC makes money from boxing, and we want to see that money redistributed among the boxers,” he said to the media on the sidelines of the Congress on Saturday. The IOC’s lack of redistribution of revenue to athletes was one of the many attacks made by Kremlev against the body, and its president Bach, during his address to the national federation delegates.
“Boxing is still going to be at the Olympics, there’s no reason to worry,” Chris Roberts, Secretary General and CEO of the IBA, told The Indian Express. “For us, we’re just business as usual. Carry on doing what we’re doing.”
US return, sort of
As the conflict went on, influential national federations began pulling out of the IBA to form a breakaway group, World Boxing. The first to terminate their membership was from the US, and the likes of Switzerland, UK, Australia, Brazil followed.
While USA Boxing – the official national boxing governing body – continues to commit to breaking away from IBA, a separate federation called US Boxing, led by former Olympic silver medallist and professional world champion Roy Jones Jr, who is a dual American-Russian citizen, has stepped in to represent the US within the world body, allowing American boxers to come under the IBA umbrella.
“What’s interesting is – the requests that we’ve had for athletes to compete neutrally at IBA events recently, a lot of them have been from American boxers. We know it’s been difficult for them. Fortuitously now, this new federation has grasped this opportunity,” Roberts said.
Switzerland – where the IBA headquarters are allocated – also resigned from the IBA, a decision that led to a change of president and eventual application to the IBA again and a return as of Saturday.
Meanwhile, German and Dutch federations which joined World Boxing but never left IBA and appealed for a dual membership to make sure their boxers can compete at top events, were terminated with majority by the federations in the Congress.
Refereeing may need improvements
Among the many bones of contention between the IOC and IBA over these past four years, it was the controversial refereeing and judge calls in the aftermath of the 2016 Rio Olympics that brought the world body under maximum scrutiny.
Developments have been made in that area since. Roberts, who was initially brought into the IBA as Development Director in 2021 and oversaw refereeing improvements, says there remains room for improvement to battle incompetent, or potentially corrupt, refereeing. “Look at it objectively, and there is always more that we can do. There’s innovation, with technology, to potentially make the scoring system more accurate, and help the referees and judges,” he said.
Roberts added that the newly-introduced bout review process, in effect at the Women’s World Championships in New Delhi in March, which places an evaluator and observer in the ring and asks them to score the bout in real time as opposed to poring over TV footage hours after the bout, increases transparency substantially.
“It happens in real-time. Semifinals of a major championship could be decided hours after the bout, because officials are looking at TV footage in some room. This places them in the situation. It’s much more transparent,” he said.
(This writer is in Dubai on invitation from the International Boxing Association)