Ludo  Saenz

We are on the eve of a historic Presidential election at the International Boxing Association (AIBA). 

With five candidates standing, tomorrow's election will be the first time in the history of this sports body that we have more than two candidates for President. Yet the International Olympic Committee (IOC) once again intervened this week, claiming it has "concerns" about some candidates. Will this late intervention by the IOC - despite the fact that the IOC is not supposed to interfere in the election of an independent federation - actually help some candidates versus others?

One media reported Boris van der Vorst, the Dutch candidate, "implied among boxing circles that he was encouraged to run by the IOC" since he is a "western European". But for the international boxing community, that is famously independent, and who pride themselves in being fighters, the thought of having a President imposed on them is an abomination. No wonder then that Van der Vorst lacks support among National Federations and has almost zero chance of being elected.

Also, AIBA’s financial situation is precarious, with over $30 million (£22.7 million/€24.8 million) of debt accumulated by previous administrations. Van der Vorst has offered no proposal to end this debt. Will he be able to get the IOC to recognise AIBA?

AIBA has no involvement in the boxing contest at Tokyo 2020, having been suspended by the IOC ©Getty Images
AIBA has no involvement in the boxing contest at Tokyo 2020, having been suspended by the IOC ©Getty Images

Then there is Suleyman Mikayilov from Azerbaijan. He has spent 15 years at AIBA, yet has nothing of note to show for it. He seems not to know the issues faced by National Federations - he even sent them an online survey, asking for them to provide him feedback so he could put together his manifesto. Without a clear plan of his own, Mikayilov remains a weak candidate.

As his last card, Mikayilov claimed on Wednesday (December 9) that he had achieved a "deal" with Benkons, the Azerbaijani company to which AIBA owes $10 million (£7.6 million/€8.3 million). This is not actually a landmark deal. Firstly, Benkons is an Azerbaijani company and the fact that Mikayilov is also propped up by the Azerbaijani leadership means that Benkons will have to announce anything that it is ordered to.

Secondly, Benkons has only agreed to defer the $1 million (£750,000/€825,000) that is due from AIBA in 2021. And this agreement is conditional on Mikayilov winning the election. Perhaps the National Federations should take note - is this the fight against corruption that the IOC wants to see?

In fact, there is little benefit for the IOC in supporting one candidate or the other in this race. The problems between the IOC and AIBA are not going to go away just because the IOC’s preferred candidate becomes President. Any such "IOC-approved" candidate would not be in a position to save AIBA.

AIBA needs to bring in reforms in finance and governance, and establish clear policies in anti-doping, and refereeing and judging. These are the key issues facing the next President, and having the IOC’s support is not a magic wand that can make these changes happen overnight.

Umar Kremlev is one of five candidates running for AIBA President ©AIBA
Umar Kremlev is one of five candidates running for AIBA President ©AIBA

AIBA needs a President who has the drive to bring in these changes, the experience in managing a complex sports federation, and the leadership to make boxers work together towards a common goal.

If you look at the five candidates, there is only one who possesses these qualities. Umar Kremlev is the frontrunner with a strong track record at turning the Russian Boxing Federation around in less than 4 years. He has made it clear that he will clear up the mess at AIBA, restore its financial viability, and usher in reforms in governance and transparency.

It is also thanks to Kremlev that AIBA is currently not bankrupt. The Global Boxing Cup he instituted as head of the Russian Boxing Federation has brought in $1 million revenues to AIBA, with another $4 million (£3 million/€3.3 million) expected in December.

If only the IOC would look beyond its favourites and own bias, it would find that Kremlev is the best bet for AIBA to restore its recognition, and he is a strong leader who the IOC can work with to develop boxing further.