The International Boxing Association (IBA) voted at its extraordinary congress yesterday (September 25) to not hold a fresh presidential election, with incumbent Russian president Umar Kremlev to continue unopposed for another four years. 

This move by IBA’s member federations has caused “extreme concern” at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that body has said, with the sport’s Olympic future both for 2028 and onwards now in severe jeopardy.

In a vote to decide whether there should be a new election between Kremlev and prospective challenger Boris van der Vorst from the Netherlands – effectively a vote on whether Kremlev should face a leadership challenge – 106 member federations voted against the option, with 36 in favor and four abstentions. 

The vote at the congress was held after the initial election between Kremlev and van der Vorst, scheduled for May, was called off by the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit (BIIU) over allegations of electoral impropriety by the Dutchman.

However, these allegations were then successfully appealed against by van der Vorst, at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The IBA then scheduled this vote to determine whether a new election should be held, or whether Kremlev’s unopposed re-election to the presidency – after van der Vorst’s removal – should stand.

Now that the IBA congress has chosen the latter option, the decision is likely to further antagonize the IOC in terms of its stance toward boxing’s governing body. 

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In a statement, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the circumstances of the congress, specifically the voting procedure for the decision about whether to hold a new presidential election.

It said: “Following these disturbing developments, the IOC will have to fully review the situation at its next meeting.”

The IBA is already barred from organizing the various boxing events at the Paris 2024 Olympics, where an IOC-appointed task force will instead be in charge.

This follows an original suspension the IOC handed out in July 2019, with the IOC having then taken charge of all boxing events at the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

The IOC said earlier this month that, because of multiple factors, it already had “grave concerns” about the running of the IBA under Kremlev and has left boxing off the initial sporting program for Los Angeles 2028.

In addition to the presidential election issue, it has also been noted by the IOC that the IBA’s board of directors chose to temporarily suspend the Ukrainian Boxing Federation at a meeting late last week.

The IBA said in a statement this decision was taken due to “interference of the government in the world of the national federation.”

The body has said that the suspension will only be revoked if conditions for “the autonomy of the federation” are met.

The IBA is the only major sports governing body whose president is Russian. Russia, with material assistance from Belarus, has been at war with Ukraine for the last eight years and attempted to stage a full-scale invasion of that country in February.

These latest incidents are likely to see the IBA’s reputation as a sporting federation fall even lower in the eyes of the Olympics’ governing body.

Following the vote of confidence in Kremlev, the IBA chief said in an official statement: “I thank the national federations for their trust. This is the full stop in all governance issues within IBA, as the congress showed its will clearly in a transparent manner. I respect the decision of our national federations and will do everything possible to support them, as well as our athletes and coaches.

‘I want to send a clear message today. IBA is an independent and strong organization. Our congress has proved today that we are on a right track. Now I will present a four-year development plan today at the board of directors meeting. I have a clear vision of what we have to do to achieve our goals.”

He also reportedly said at the congress itself that “we shouldn’t say Olympic boxing, we should say IBA boxing” and that “no one else should have an influence on the organization.”

The head of Boxing New Zealand, Steve Hartley, is reported to have warned during a discussion before the vote that congress would be deciding whether or not to commit “Olympic suicide” by effectively re-electing Kremlev unopposed.

Tyson Lee, president of USA Boxing, is said to have added that “we [the IBA] are becoming a laughing stock to the world.”

Ultimately, however, 74.65% of voting delegates came down in favor of not holding another presidential election.

After the decision was announced, van der Vorst and several of his supporters reportedly left the room.

Late last week, meanwhile, the IBA appointed George A. Yerolimpos as its new secretary general. 

The board voted for Yerolimpos, originally from Greece, with a majority of 87%.

Formerly an executive director of the SportAccord annual sports business conference (from 2013 to 2015), he also previously served as the secretary general of the Teqball international sports federation between March 2017 and February 2019 and was also a member of the Hellenic Olympic Committee until 2021.

Yerolimpos said after his appointment: “I would like to thank you for your trust. It is an honor for me to be appointed as secretary general for the International Boxing Association. I will dedicate all my time to the rebranding of IBA at all levels, especially in integrity and transparency. IBA is my new home.”

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