15 nations protesting choice to host IBA Extraordinary Congress in Armenia

Re-run of presidential vote to be “most important election in the history of Olympic-style boxing” says USA official

FILE PHOTO: International Boxing Association (AIBA) President Umar Kremlev attends a news conference ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland June 28, 2021.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: International Boxing Association (AIBA) President Umar Kremlev attends a news conference ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

The group of 15 nations protesting the decision to hold the International Boxing Association (IBA) Extraordinary Congress in Yerevan, Armenia, is down but not out.

“We’re hopeful; we believe in the process,” Mike McAtee, the CEO/Executive Director of USA Boxing, tells Around the Rings. “We’re boxing people and it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, we’re going to keep getting up. The goal is to support our boxers, officials and our sport. The failure of leadership of the IBA is putting us on a crash course to be out of the Olympic Movement.”

As boxing fights for its existence in the Olympic world, a re-run of the vote for president will take place at the Congress.

McAtee said the group called “Common Cause Alliance” has not received formal notice that its four-page request to the IBA Board of Directors to select another host city has been rejected. However, the international boxing federation has announced the Congress will take place Sept. 25 in Yerevan.

A new presidential election was necessary after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in favor of Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands. Van der Vorst was declared ineligible to run for president by the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit (BIIU) on the eve of the election in Istanbul in May. Incumbent Umar Kremlev of Russia ran unopposed.

McAtee, one of four candidates barred from running for the Board of Directors by the BIIU, said the IBA is “showing bias that they’re not taking the complaints of national federations when it comes to selection of a neutral democratic location to have the most important election in the history of Olympic-style boxing. This election will impact the International Olympic Committee’s decision when it comes to keeping boxing in the Olympic Games.”

FILE PHOTO: Boxing - Olympics - Athens 2004 Olympic Games - Athens - 29/8/04  Amir Khan with the Olympic Silver Medal he won for Britain today  Action Images via Reuters/Richard Heathcote/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Boxing - Olympics - Athens 2004 Olympic Games - Athens - 29/8/04 Amir Khan with the Olympic Silver Medal he won for Britain today Action Images via Reuters/Richard Heathcote/File Photo

He added that “just like we followed the process of going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and prevailing,” the alliance believes it has grounds for success in this matter.

“I don’t believe they followed the proper process when it came to transparency,” McAtee said. “It’s our belief that the Board of Directors may have selected differently if they were told about all the ongoing investigations, so that should be part of the conversation.”

McAtee said the investigations involve manipulation on the field of play. The letter states that “the McLaren Independent Investigation Team is currently conducting an investigation into the disturbing events that took place at the 2022 EUBC Men’s Elite European Boxing Championships in Yerevan, including allegations of corruption, unauthorized intrusions into the Field of Play and the subsequent interventions of the EUBC Board in matters of on-site management of competition officials.”

The President of the Armenian Boxing Federation is a subject of the investigation as a member of the EUBC Board of Directors.

The alliance also has concerns that the Armenian Government “is a close military and political ally of the Russian government, which is currently conducting an illegal military invasion of Ukraine.” The Russian military is currently stationed at a base in Gyumri and at an airbase near Yerevan.

The letter asks, “How could IBA allow the organization of the IBA Congress in a country which stations the military that had violated the Olympic Truce and is still conducting an illegal invasion into a sovereign country?”

The alliance suggests holding the Congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, which would reduce travel costs for IBA staff and is “the home and heart of the international boxing,” according to a statement by Kremlev at the June 24, 2022 IBA Board Meeting.

FILE PHOTO: The Olympic rings are pictured in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
FILE PHOTO: The Olympic rings are pictured in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Although IBA said Lausanne could not be the host because it did not bid, McAtee said the federation office usually selects a site without a bidding process. He said the lack of transparency about the decision is similar to “the past actions by IBA that led to the suspension. They’re doing the same old thing. If we have an election in a country that we’ve identified that has a background of violations of rules and regulations, what it will be rubber-stamping is the IOC’s willingness to remove IBA as part of the Olympic Movement.”

The IBA has been suspended by the IOC due to concerns about governance and the refereeing and judging system. In late June, the IOC announced the boxing qualifying events and the Paris 2024 Olympic competitions will not be run under the authority of the IBA.

The “Common Cause” for the alliance “is to keep Olympic style boxing in the Olympic program of Paris 2024 and ensure its re-inclusion for Los Angeles 2028.” Besides the United States, the other countries are Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sweden and Switzerland.

“We’re 15 nations that are willing to put our names and logos out there,” said McAtee. “We’ve been contacted by numerous nations that are afraid of retaliation.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Featherweight - Medal Ceremony - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - August 5, 2021. Gold medallist Albert Batyrgaziev of the Russian Olympic Committee and Silver medallist Duke Ragan of the United States embrace during the medal ceremony REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Featherweight - Medal Ceremony - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - August 5, 2021. Gold medallist Albert Batyrgaziev of the Russian Olympic Committee and Silver medallist Duke Ragan of the United States embrace during the medal ceremony REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

“I believe there’s a silent majority out there that wants significant change. We saw that in Turkey there was a significant groundswell as a populist movement to support Boris as president. I believe the silent majority of the national federations want new leadership. They want to be part of the Olympic family, and unfortunately the failures of the past are being repeated by the current president and vice president.”

The letter to the board also stated disappointment at “insufficient progress in governance reforms,” the IBA’s failure to effectively develop a comprehensive Olympic Qualification System and “heavy reliance of the IBA on funding from a Russian Government-owned company, which is now concurrently funding a horrific illegal invasion into Ukraine.”

The alliance said Kremlev “falsely stated” in a letter to the IOC that none of the IBA Board Members served in AIBA leadership roles prior to 2018, but noted that current IBA Vice President Volodymyr Prodyvus was appointed to the AIBA Executive Committee by CK Wu in 2012 and remained in that role for more than two years before his second term of 2018-2022. “We therefore request that the IBA Interim Nomination Unit looks into this matter and verifies whether all 2022 Congress Nomination Forms were submitted with accurate information,” the letter said. “Finally, we would like to remind the IBA President that it is not within his constitutional duties to call for an election or a Congress, as he stated in the letter. Such statements in official communication with the IOC only reinforce their governance concerns. This power lies within the Board of Directors and it was exercised on June 24, 2022.”

McAtee said that no new sponsors have been retained by IBA. “The brand of IBA is once again tainted — just like the brand of AIBA was tainted — by bad finances, allegations about manipulation and lack of transparency,” he said.

However, McAtee said that even if the Congress is not moved from Armenia, he believes van der Vorst will be elected president.

“We expect that there will be some shenanigans,” McAtee said, “but at the end of the day, our national federations will vote for him and ultimately he’ll prevail.”