Richard McLaren, the Canadian professor who has been compiling a three-part report on governance, financial, and legal issues at the International Boxing Association (IBA) governing body over the last nine months, has said in the final part of his investigation that further reforms are needed if boxing is to remain an Olympic sport.
The final edition of the three-part McLaren Report, published over the weekend, has also reiterated that multiple issues the beleaguered governing body has encountered over the last few years stem from the election of former president C K Wu to the helm of the body in 2006.
Continuing along those lines, the report then suggests that, because of the financial issues Wu caused during his presidency, the current reliance on Russian state-backed energy giant Gazprom – whatever the moral questions around the continuing commercial deal – has saved the body from insolvency and even deeper crisis.
Regarding the sport’s Olympic status – it is not currently on the program for Los Angeles 2028, while at Tokyo 2020 boxing events were run by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – McLaren said: “The IBA is an organization in transition but still in need of reform …
“International boxing cannot seem to shake its historical culture of bout manipulation and of operating outside the rules and beyond. If the sport is to retain its place in the Olympic family, it needs to act now.”
The previous iteration of the Swiss-based governing body, the AIBA, was suspended as the Olympic governing body for boxing in June 2019 (two years after Wu departed as president), at which point the IOC itself stepped in.
The report suggests that the culture of in-ring corruption detailed in the first part of McLaren’s investigation – multiple bouts during the 2016 Rio Olympics being manipulated, for example – is the direct result of the decisions taken during Wu’s presidency.
The second part of the report, released in December, focused on identifying both Wu and Karim Bouzidi (executive director of AIBA under Wu) as complicit in the corruption.
Now, the final part has turned to their legacy of “financial mismanagement”, which ultimately led to a culture where corruption became accepted.
McLaren has said: “More than a decade of financial mismanagement created a damaging legacy that hung over the management and administration of the sport until recently."
In terms of a specific cause, McLaren has said: “Corruption was allowed to creep in and take hold of the organization because of the senior management’s excessive focus on finding investments for unrealistic venues.”
The professor said that this excessive focus was the result of “expansive dreams” that Wu had while in charge, such as the launch of the World Series of Boxing (WSB), an international tournament that turned amateur boxers into professionals paid by city-based franchises.
The WSB, which was held between 2010 and 2019, “brought AIBA to the verge of financial ruin”, McLaren’s report has concluded.
As a consequence, the report says, “the sport suffered a huge financial burden that nearly caused its collapse”, and AIBA’s senior leadership had to solely focus on “finding funds to repay the loans and pay the staff.”
it adds: “The combination of attrition and the lack of financial resources ultimately resulted in the organization being left with a skeleton staff.”
As such, McLaren concludes that with regards to the IBA’s financial peril: “The catastrophic state of the finances … is now a legacy of the WU presidency.”
And, while the Gazprom sponsorship deal – in place since April 2021 – is a subject of much criticism after Russia’s invasion and continued occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine, McLaren has said the tie-up “put an end to the jeopardy that AIBA put itself in and saved it from financial collapse.
“Whatever the debate of the source of the funds, it has ensured the continuing survival of the IBA.”
In March, it was reported that the IBA’s secretary-general Istvan Kovacs admitted that a complete termination of the deal – as happened across most sports with Russian brands and sponsors – would not be possible, as Gazprom is essentially propping up the body with funding.
Before Gazprom’s funding kicked in, the body was in debt to the tune of over $15 million.
In response to the final report submission, Russian IBA president Umar Kremlev (elected for the first time in December 2020) has said: “I am grateful to Professor McLaren and his team for the pivotal role they have played in the process of reforming boxing.
“IBA is going to work on the implementation of his recommendations based on the principles of transparency and integrity.
"We are committed to making our sport clean and changing the overall culture that lead to the crisis that plagued our sport.
“We all know the image of IBA was damaged due to the mismanagement of the organization and years of wrongdoings, corruption, and biased judgment.”
The position of Kremlev himself, one of a tiny number of Russian officials still heading up Olympic sports, did not fall under the remit of McLaren’s investigation.
The IBA president is currently under serious scrutiny because of the nature of his uncontested re-election in May. Earlier this month, the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) ruled that Boris van der Vorst, president of the Dutch Boxing Federation, had been unlawfully ruled ineligible to oppose Kremlev in the election.
van der Vorst then appealed to CAS, which ruled that his offense – essentially, starting campaigning too soon – was a minor infraction and should not have been punished by disqualification.
Kremlev has since said he is willing to stage the election again, this time with van der Vorst involved.
At the time, the IOC expressed "serious concerns" about the manner of the re-election.