Patrick Burke

It is quite something for the International Boxing Association (IBA) to be going into its upcoming Women's Boxing World Championships in New Delhi in a less unified state than how it exited last year's one in Istanbul.

While the build-up to last year's delayed event was dominated by a Presidential election with an Extraordinary Congress organised alongside the World Championships, the mood is very different now that Umar Kremlev has cemented his position at the top of the IBA.

This time last year there was still hope that the IBA could salvage boxing's Olympic status from Los Angeles 2028. Those hopes have all-but vanished with the only Russian-led governing body of an Olympic sport seemingly relishing its war of words with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

IOC President Thomas Bach said days after the Extraordinary Congress in the Turkish city that he was "not amused" by the fiasco which led to Kremlev being re-elected by acclamation, after the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit deemed his challenger Boris van der Vorst ineligible to stand. The Court of Arbitration for Sport found that this was the wrong conclusion, prompting another Extraordinary Congress in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Delegates voted emphatically against staging a re-run of the election, which was no surprise given the level of support Kremlev has built in the Federation, but it was hardly a good look for the IBA. "We are becoming a laughing stock to the world," France's delegate warned on that occasion.

Again unsurprisingly given the nature of the Extraordinary Congress, where van der Vorst and several of his allies walked out before a jubilant Kremlev bullishly boasted of taking "our own path", efforts to extinguish the fire on the burning bridges between the IBA and its biggest critics including the IOC have been minimal.

The two IOC Executive Board meetings since then have been dominated by its ongoing boxing-related concerns around its governance, financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes. On both occasions, the IBA has responded with remarkable statements of its own criticising the IOC and laying the blame partly at its door because of the Presidency of former IOC Executive Board member CK Wu from 2006 to 2017.

There is not much to laugh about in a dispute that has brought boxing to the brink of losing its long-standing and proud Olympic status, but the IBA's "fact-based response" to the IOC's statement a day after Bach had called on it to address its concerns "by facts and not by some PR efforts" brought a chuckle. Its recent brazen announcement that it had approved a qualification system for the Paris 2024 Olympics even though that has already been taken out of its hand by the IOC did likewise.

Umar Kremlev, furthest left, was controversially re-elected as IBA President last year, but relations with the IOC have since slumped to an all-time low ©IBA
Umar Kremlev, furthest left, was controversially re-elected as IBA President last year, but relations with the IOC have since slumped to an all-time low ©IBA

The IBA does not mind taking the fight to the IOC. It showed scant regard for its recommendations on Russia and Belarus by lifting a ban on both countries' athletes and national symbols, a decision Kremlev has this week defended to Reuters by claiming the organisation "must protect each athlete".

But it is one of the reasons several of Kremlev's opponents within boxing have had enough.

Last year's Women's World Championships was marked by a bitter debate over boxing's future.

With this year's engulfed by boycotts from nations unhappy at the IBA's direction under Kremlev, a split in the "boxing family" is looking an increasingly practical, maybe even inevitable, solution to appease the governance concerns of those countries and of the IOC.  

Indeed, the wind appears to be blowing in the direction of change.

The Common Cause Alliance (CCA) was created seeking to prioritise boxing's presence at the Olympic Games. It is led by Dutch Boxing Federation President van der Vorst and heavily backed his bid for the IBA's top post last year, warning that any result other than his election could prove fatal to its hopes of regaining credibility with the IOC.

It has not been proven wrong in that regard, and indeed the IBA's hopes of restoring its IOC recognition for the first time since 2019 appear more remote than ever.

Several members of the CCA and other boxing nations have had enough, opting in dribs and drabs to shun the IBA's forthcoming Women's World Championships from March 15 to 26 and the Men's World Championships in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent from May 1 to 14.

This began with the United States on February 8, and since then Britain, Ireland, Czech Republic, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ukraine, Poland, Norway and New Zealand have all declared their intention to stage some form of boycott.

The IBA's hopes of rescuing boxing's place at the Olympic Games from Los Angeles 2028 by itself appear remote ©Getty Images
The IBA's hopes of rescuing boxing's place at the Olympic Games from Los Angeles 2028 by itself appear remote ©Getty Images

Australia in contrast is set to send a team to New Delhi, and fellow Alliance members France and the Philippines are yet to announce their plans.

A lack of coordinated action from the CCA has been a little surprising. Van der Vorst had not even commented on the boycott movement in the 11 days following USA Boxing's announcement until the Dutch Boxing Federation joined it on February 19. His last social media post came on February 22.

Yet according to Boxing New Zealand President Steve Hartley - who revealed earlier this week that an alternative event to the Men's World Championships is expected to take place in The Netherlands - wheels are beginning to turn on a plan B away from the IBA.

Hartley was quoted by New Zealand publication Stuff as saying "watch this space" when asked about the possibility of the CCA forming a breakaway Federation, and hinted at developments after the Women's World Championships, claiming there had been a degree of guidance from the IOC.

"There is a lot happening, and it will happen very quickly after the World Champs," he said.

"The big one is the IOC making an emphatic statement. They've got to make an emphatic statement very soon.

"They've encouraged us to do everything we're doing and advised us, but they could help more."

Boxing New Zealand President Steve Hartley has hinted at further developments
Boxing New Zealand President Steve Hartley has hinted at further developments "very quickly" after the Women's World Championships ©IBA

Hartley produced one of the soundbites of the Extraordinary Congress in Yerevan last year when he cautioned that the IBA risked committing an "Olympic suicide" if it voted against staging a fresh election.

He is one of five officials who the IBA has begun disciplinary proceedings against as they have been accused of "inciting a boycott", the others being USA Boxing executive director Mike McAtee, Boxing Canada President Ryan O'Shea, Czech Boxing Association leader Marek Šimák and Swedish Boxing Association chair Per-Axel Sjöholm.

New Zealand has not even boycotted the Women's World Championships - it is expected to send a team to that event, although not to the Men's World Championships.

Kremlev has previously described leaders of a boycott as "worse than hyenas and jackals".

For Kremlev's biggest critics, there appears no desire on either side for their reintegration back into the IBA "boxing family". For the IOC, there appears no place for IBA-governed boxing at the Olympics.

The IBA President warned earlier this week that the IOC would lose "the most beautiful sport" if it dropped boxing.

Los Angeles 2028 without boxing would surely be something organisers in the US and the IOC want to avoid.

There is clearly work to do on what form it would take, but a breakaway Federation now appears the obvious solution.