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Shadows of Corruption Part 2: The IBA, Russia, and Conflicts of Interest

In the first part of the Shadows of Corruption series, we looked at Michael Conlan and his robbery at the 2012 Olympic Games. I originally intended to look at fights like Conlan’s that showed how corruption was ruining the sport of amateur boxing and how it will impact the Olympics and boxing’s status in it. In part two, I was intending to look at the 1996 Olympic controversy with none other than Floyd Mayweather Jr. Instead, we are going to be looking at something a bit more recent and how, even today, the International Boxing Association (IBA) is rife with corruption and will cause boxing to be excluded in the 2028 Olympic Games.

The root of all things corrupt: Russia

On the 24th of February in 2022, Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine citing a Nazi problem but really fueled by a desire to reunite the former Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin has expressed this sentiment in the past and now it’s finally come manifest. We’ve talked to Olympians in the past like Stanislav Horuna who are Ukranian at heart and are staying to fight the Russians, even auctioning off his bronze medal to help for the cost of war. We’ve seen statements from different federations including the IOC, the World Taekwondo Federation, and the International Judo Federation have all taken away honors from the Russian president. The world is united with Ukraine.

While that’s an inspiring message and other fighters like Yaroslav Amosov, Wladimir Klitschko, Oleksandr Usyk, and Vasyl Lomachenko have all stayed alongside their country in the time of war, there’s also a darker side to the story. One where the Russians are using their positions to advance their agenda.

In September 2022, the IBA did just that: tried to advance the Russian agenda. That month, the IBA attempted to ban Ukrainian boxers from competing at the Junior European Championships in Italy. They claimed that Ukrainian athletes were supposed to compete under the IBA flag in that event. There, the athletes refused to adhere to what the IBA mandated and, like the bullies they are, the IBA backed down and allowed to compete under the Ukrainian flag.

Conflicts of Interest

With the basics of the story laid out, it’s time to look at the massive conflict of interests that the IBA has in the sport of boxing. The president of the IBA is Umar Kremlev, a Russian. Now simply being Russian wouldn’t normally be enough to condemn someone but it’s Kremlev’s actions that really make him out to be the bad guy.

The attempted banning of Ukraine from the Junior World Cup was rife with political influence. The biggest donor to the IBA is a company named Gazprom. Since the war in Ukraine, Gazprom has made some wild demands that show signs of Russian nationalism through Vladimir Putin himself. With much of Europe and the rest of the West becoming increasingly dependent on Russian oil in the last decade, Putin and Gazprom have used this to put pressure on their political enemies to fund their agenda and subsequent war in Ukraine.

The Russian state has over a 50% stake in the company and Gazprom has used that investment to become an international company. While it is fine that Gazprom has foreign ambitions, it is of concern when Russia, a country bent on breaking international rules, treaties and agreements, controls most of that company.

Using Gazprom has has their fair share of controversies. When Russia first set their eyes on Ukraine in 2005, Gazprom began raising the prices on natural gas to control Europe and Ukraine. This caused boycotts in 2005 and 2013 which resulted in Gazprom paying a Ukraine oil company $2.9 billion dollars.

This practice reared its ugly head again in 2022 with Gazprom threatening that it will cut off gas supplies to Europe if the Union continues to support Ukraine in the invasion.

Gazprom has also been working on a huge international monopoly to gain more political leverage in Eastern Europe. In the early 10’s, Gazprom and Russia worked hard to keep competition from springing up in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia. Gazprom intended to keep competition out so the Russian state could control prices of natural gas and control the energy grid in these countries thus keeping them under Russian influence.

Then, of course, there is the Nord Stream pipeline, a huge story in its own right, that Russia and Gazprom have been pushing to increase Russian influence backed with Gazprom energy. I’ll have to dive into that story another time with the size of it.

The IBA Pushing Forward Russian Propaganda

Now with this information spelled out, let’s look at how the IBA and Gazprom being in bed together hurts Olympic boxing. While the IBA has claimed they’re being unfairly persecuted by the IOC, their actions seem to show otherwise.

We’ve seen and discussed Russian favoritism with Michael Conlan and Ukraine earlier in this article. The question is why? Why does Gazprom and Russia have such a vested interest in rigging Olympic boxing?

The answer in short: nationalistic propaganda.

Russia uses athletic accomplishments to show Russian superiority to its citizens. Around the world the underdog is the sweetheart of competition and Russia puts in a lot of work to put forth a “Russia vs. The West” mentality in it’s citizens. When Russia, who’s citizens see themselves and their athletes as an underdog, succeed, it creates more of a national pride in Russian citizens. This has been a point of interest in not only Russia, but China, the United States, Japan and almost every country in the world that competes in The Games. It isn’t inherently bad but when it’s weaponized to use a in a way that isolates a group of people and puts them on a pedestal of being better than the world, therein lies the problem.

Russia’s heavy investment in the IBA through Gazprom provides them with an opportunity to try to fix these events in their favor, which goes against everything the IOC stands for. It is the complete opposite of what the Olympic Spirit is all about. We’ve seen Russia try to fix the Winter Olympic Games in 2008—watch Icarus if you want your mind blown about this. While Russia has been suspended from competition for their actions in Sochi, their actions haven’t seemed remorseful.

On the surface, they say they’re fixing corruption and fight fixing. But if you dig at all into the business, there’s drastic conflicts of interest. IBA used their rebranding to move the headquarters from Switzerland to Russia. The IBA board refused a new election of a president after the IOC recommended Kremlev be replaced. The IBA has opposed independent selection of judges which raises eyebrows after proven fight fixing and bribing. All of this indicates that the IBA and Umar Kremlev do not really want to change and instead want to continue to push Russian nationalism and corruption to the Olympic podium.

The IOC is reviewing the IBA’s status and is even taking selection out of the organization’s hands. With these actions taken, it’s unlikely that the IBA will remain the leader for amateur boxing for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Boxing could be absent or, in the best case scenario, a new organization takes the helm.

One thing is for certain, the IBA wants to show change to the world. Do they actually want to change? That remains to be seen but from their actions, corruption is still rife in the organization. It is time for a change for the sport of amateur boxing.

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In addition to covering boxing for My MMA News, Blaine Henry, the author, also analyzes fights from all combat sports across the globe. 

Blaine Henry can be found on Twitter, on his Substack, an YouTube.

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