Cold War away from boxing ring as boycotts likely to hit Women’s World Championships in New Delhi

With barely a month left for the Women’s World Boxing Championships in New Delhi, the International Boxing Association (IBA), the global governing body of boxing, finds itself on the ropes after six nations — USA, Ireland, Great Britain, Canada, Sweden and Czech Republic — announced plans to boycott the event. The six nations have also either announced they will not compete at the Men’s World Championships, to be held in Tashkent in May, or that they will take a call later on sending boxers.

The Women’s World Championships is to be held between March 15-26 at the IG Sports Complex in New Delhi. The BFI said that they were hoping for an “amicable solution”.

One of the biggest reasons behind the boycott call is IBA’s decision to reverse its ban on boxers from Russia and Belarus. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, IBA (known as AIBA back then) had banned boxers from Russia and Belarus from competing in events organised by it after heeding the recommendations by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). But in October last year, IBA reversed the ban after a vote by its Board of Directors. The move allows boxers from Russia and Belarus to compete with their national flags and anthems.

The statements from the countries have also noted that IBA president Umar Kremlev is Russian and the biggest sponsor of the boxing governing body, Gazprom, is Russia’s state-owned energy company.

The boycott calls came at a time IBA bragged that the upcoming World Championships will have more boxers participating than the previous edition, which had 310 boxers from 73 countries. Curiously, IBA also extended the registration deadline for boxers at the same time.

“Our decision reflects on-going concerns about the future of boxing’s place on the Olympic programme and the recent move by IBA to allow boxers from Russia and Belarus to compete under their national flags… This has put further distance between IBA and the Olympic movement,” Great Britain Boxing said in a statement.

It must be pointed out that in recent times the IOC has been softening its stance against Russian and Belarussian athletes as qualification events for Paris 2024 start. Athletes from the two nations are likely to compete in the Asian Games later this year.

“We are aware of the reports. The tournament is scheduled for a March 15 start, so we have a month in our hand. In the interim, we are in touch with the IBA top brass and we are hoping for an amicable solution at the earliest. The IBA has conveyed to us that they are in talks with all the member nations We are confident that the Championship will see the highest ever participation from member nations,” BFI told The Indian Express in a statement.

While IBA did not respond to an email questionnaire from The Indian Express asking about the status of the World Championships in New Delhi, since learning of the boycotts, the governing body has tried to offer its “support to any athlete that wants to participate”.

It also accused the dissenting countries of “unreasonably damaging the reputation of IBA… based on defamatory half-truths” and threatened to take action against them.

Kremlev, while addressing a press conference recently in , branded the dissenting officials “worse than hyenas and jackals”. While accusing them of “violating the integrity of sport and culture”, he urged “colleagues to clear their organisations of such hyenas”.

The nations — led by USA, which was the first nation to announce its boycott last Wednesday — have also raised longstanding issues like governance, transparency and financial misdeeds as additional reasons behind skipping the event. These issues have seen IOC strip IBA of the rights to host the Olympic boxing event at the deferred Tokyo Olympics and the upcoming Paris Games. The IOC has also snatched away IBA’s rights to host the qualification events for Paris 2024 while the sport has been left off of the initial programme of the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.

“Since the IOC suspension of IBA’s recognition in 2019, many national federations, including USA Boxing, have expressed growing concern with IBA’s inability to implement the necessary changes required by the Lalovic Report for readmission into the Olympic Movement. IBA leaders have failed to follow the recommendations of their own experts which provided a clear pathway for athlete inclusion, fair play, proper governance, financial transparency, and responsibility. These ongoing failures forced the IOC to step in and oversee both the prior Olympic boxing program in Tokyo 2020 and the scheduled Olympic boxing program in Paris 2024,” said USA Boxing’s CEO Mike McAtee in a press release.

USA Boxing also alleged that IBA had made no public announcements “identifying any action or sanctions towards those identified in the IBA-commissioned McLaren Reports, aside from prior IBA President Ching-Kuo Wu”. It went on to claim that the Governance Reform Group, put in place to clean up the house by IBA, saw their contracts expire without full implementation of their recommendations. USA Boxing also accused IBA of lacking transparency in the way it appointed Vice President Abdulmatalim Abakarov.

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