Putin’s man in international boxing: non-transparent financing, ignoring sanctions, lobbying for the aggressor’s interests.

Umar Kremlev is the President of the International Boxing Federation (headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, with the President’s office in Moscow, Russia). Through his actions, statements, and policies, Mr. Kremlev has once again proved that sport does not exist outside of politics. Recently, the Federation returned the opportunity for Russian and Belarusian boxers not only to participate in competitions but also to do so under their own flags.

Photo: Vladimir Putin and Umar Kremlin
@Gavriil Grigorov/POOL/TASS

A new scandal

On February 8, the US Boxing Federation announced its refusal to participate in the men’s and women’s world championships, in particular, because of the International Boxing Association’s (IBA) decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete in tournaments under national flags.

This was reported by the United States Boxing Federation (USA Boxing) on its official website.

USA Boxing’s main claim was that the International Boxing Federation decided to ignore the IOC’s recommendations and allow boxers from Russia and Belarus to compete under their flags.

In addition, the American federation emphasized the non-transparent election of IBA President Umar Kremlev, the organization’s ties to Gazprom, and the not-always-objective work of judges at tournaments.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023. Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression,” the statement reads.

International Boxing Federation. Nothing criminal?

The International Boxing Association, previously known as the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur (AIBA), is an independent sport organization that sanctions amateur (Olympic-style) boxing matches and awards world and subordinate championships. IBA consists of five continental confederations — AFBC, AMBC, ASBC, EUBC, and OCBC. The association includes 203 national boxing federations.

IBA was recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the international governing body for the sport of boxing until 2019 when the IOC suspended its recognition of the federation.

The organization has been involved in multiple corruption scandals including on several editions of the Summer Olympic Games. These scandals are more like stories from action movies or mafia movies.

For example, President Wu Ching-kuo, who led the organization from 2006 to 2017, stepped down amid accusations of financial mismanagement. 

The only candidate to replace him was Gafur Rakhimov, an Uzbek businessman whom the United States government has placed under sanctions due to alleged links to organized crime and describes as “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals”.

Rakhimov was denied a visa to Argentina for the recent Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires and has been barred from Olympic events dating back to the Sydney Games in 2000. They are unequivocal that he does not fit their ethical standards for the head of an IOC member organization.

He is alleged by the US Treasury Department to be a member of the Brother’s Circle, an organized crime group based in the former Soviet Union that the Treasury says is involved in international heroin smuggling.

Therefore, it is understandable the IOC’s desire not to be associated with a man the United States considers part of a major international organized crime group, especially considering the scandals that have long blighted amateur boxing.

In June 2019, the IOC voted to suspend its recognition of the IBA as the governing body for the sport, stripping the IBA of any involvement in the Olympic Games.

Kremlev. Kremlin. Gazprom.

In December 2020, after a succession of changes of directors, Umar Kremlev, a Russian citizen, becomes the President of the IBA for the first time. Previously, he was the first vice-president of the European Boxing Confederation (EUBC) (since February 2019) and was also the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation (2017-2020).

The International Olympic Committee has been concerned about the IBA under Kremlev’s leadership. Kremlev has ties to Vladimir Putin, and in 2020 he was awarded Medal of the Order “For Merit to the Fatherland”, II degree for “a great contribution to the development of physical culture and sport and diligent work”. Kremlev has moved much of the IBA’s operations from Lausanne, Switzerland to Russia, has spent heavily on apparent self-promotion, and has opposed independent appointment of judges and referees. These reasons, among others, were also mentioned in the appeal of the US Boxing Federation as a justification for the boycott.

But other actions of Kremlev became the most resonant. For example, when he took office, the IBA was up to $20 million in debt. Mr. Kremlev solved this problem and paid off the debts with the help of a new sponsor. This sponsor is the Russian state corporation Gazprom. It should be reminded that Gazprom has been subject to severe sanctions for supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Following Russia’s invasion, in early March, the IBA suspended Russians and Belarusians from tournaments. It also approved the cancellation of international events scheduled for Russia and Belarus in 2022. The association’s leadership offered full support for measures aimed at helping Ukrainian boxers. 

In April, the IBA was demanded to suspend the activities of the Russian Boxing Federation because it supported the annexation of Ukrainian regions by Russia and its support for the war. We remind you that the Russian Boxing Federation was headed by Umar Kremlev before he was appointed head of the IBA. No decision was made – the RBF simply removed the posts from its page.

In June, it turned out that Russians were still participating in international tournaments, just under a different flag. At the European Championships, 7 out of 10 athletes of the Serbian national team were from Russia. Moreover, the coaching and medical staff of the Russian national team also came under the flag of Serbia.

In December, Kremlev announced that he intends to continue cooperation with Gazprom, although the contract is about to expire and the absence of such a sponsor is one of the IOC’s conditions for boxing to remain in the Olympic system.

And just recently, the IBA allowed Russians and Belarusians to participate in the World Youth Championships:

Russia is a sporting nation, it really is. Russia demonstrates the development of sports in a large number of disciplines.
And today I would urge my colleagues to stop sabotaging and join in and help athletes participate in all international competitions and not deprive them of either the anthem or the flag – this is the most important thing for an athlete.
They come not for medals, but to represent their country and their people. We have no right to deprive our favorite athletes of their achievements, their dreams, we must create conditions for them – it is our duty, we have come to develop sports and help, to create, not destroy or play political games,” Kremlev said.

Sport is beyond politics, isn’t it?

These days, Morocco is hosting the Golden Belt Series Morocco 2023 tournament, a competition among the best IBA athletes and a stage of the International Boxing Association’s World Boxing Tour. Both men’s and women’s teams take part in it.

Thanks to the Kremlev’s efforts, this is the first tournament since 2019 when Russians box under their own flags. Then, the World Anti-Doping Agency suspended Russia from all major sporting events for four years because of state-sponsored doping.

The Tribuna.ua website shows the boxers thanking Kadyrov and taking pictures with Shoigu. For example, Muslim Gadzhimagomedov, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics in the 92 kg weight category. Here he is delighted with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Source: Tribuna.ua

And here is another boxer, the armored medalist of the Tokyo Olympics in the 80 kg weight category, Imam Khatayev, who sincerely congratulates the odious head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov on the New Year.

Source: Tribuna.ua

Unfortunately, sport in Russia is a propaganda of state victories, domination over other countries, and an integral part of colonization policy.

And wherever Russia finances sports or has representatives, corruption, manipulation, and propaganda appear. It doesn’t matter whether they are athletes or bureaucrats.

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