Known for decades by its French acronym of AIBA – for Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur – the international sports federation for boxing re-branded itself last weekend and promised further reforms in order to once again govern Olympic boxing.
It may not be enough.
During last Sunday’s Extraordinary Congress – held online – the federation confirmed its name as the “International Boxing Association” and adopted the “IBA” acronym instead of AIBA, with a new logo. More importantly, the 107 member federations present adopted a series of constitutional and operating reforms designed to return it to its former status:
● An Ordinary Congress will take place every year, creating a closer tie between the member federations and the governance process.
● A new Boxing Independent Integrity Unit (“BIIU”) will be created and be in operation during 2022, providing independent anti-doping, compliance tribunal, nomination checks and education services to the IBA and its members.
● Elections will be more tightly scrutinized: candidate eligibility criteria was enhanced as well as the “vetting process.”
● The IBA Board will be reduced from 22 to 18 members, with term limits and a defined selection process for independent directors – with specific skills which can help the IBA to succeed – to be adopted. Elections are to be held before 30 June 2022.
These changes came directly from the 15 November report of the AIBA Governance Reform Group, chaired by University of Zurich Professor Ulrich Haas (GER), a specialist in procedural law and arbitration, especially in the sports industry. The report noted, in its second paragraph:
“The [Governance Reform Group] notes that AIBA has made numerous changes to its rules and regulations in the recent past with the aim of improving its governance structure. These developments point in the right direction. The GRG, however, also notes that despite the above, AIBA was, and still is, in a serious crisis. In order to overcome this crisis and restore trust in AIBA, further far-reaching measures are urgently required.”
The report outlined, at length, the steps needed and a precise governance program and committee and commission structure. And a change of leadership is needed:
“In order to quickly restore confidence in AIBA and to avoid poor governance culture carrying over to the future, a ‘fresh start’ is required. In this regard, the GRG observes that most members in the Standing Committees and Permanent Committees have been renewed since 2018. The same is true, to a large extent, in relation to the staff employed by AIBA. The GRG recommends that a similar ‘fresh start’ should also be made in relation to the leadership of AIBA, more specifically the Board.
“The GRG, therefore, recommends minimizing any overlaps between the current Board members and the Board members to be elected/appointed in 2022. To this end, any Board member who made his / her career within AIBA predominantly during the eras of former Presidents Ching-Kuo Wu and/or Gafur Rakhimov should not form part of the Board to be elected in 2022.
“The GRG assumes that under these guidelines, approximately ¾ of the present Board
members need to be replaced.”
This report was followed up by a painful, 96-page report from McLaren Global Sport Solutions, outlining corruption and manipulation of the sport down to the individual match level from 2016 to 2021. In short:
“AIBA staggered through a revolving door of Presidents and Executive Directors causing instability and a lack of cohesive leadership from the top. Behind the curtain, there was constant interference from those formerly in charge of AIBA. Those bad actors combined with the instability created by the revolving door of top management provided the environment where the corruption and manipulation could continue with similar intensity to the conduct at Rio.
“As a result, this Stage 3 Report uncovers the weaknesses of the destabilised AIBA structure. There was a loss of organisational knowledge and institutional memory; inconsistent application of rules; no appetite to investigate the organisation or individual complaints; and ineffective disciplinary process without the force of sanctions. All of these problems contained within a failing organisational structure, ineffective in its operation.”
McLaren’s report alarmingly noted “Some evidence is emerging that bout manipulation may be occurring to facilitate gambling syndicates which will need to be examined further.” Exactly how the results of Rio 2016 Olympic bouts could be fixed was described in detail.
But McLaren’s report also stated “There has been noticeable improvement in the operation and administration of AIBA due to the leadership of the current President [Umar Kremlev/RUS] and the officials he has appointed such as the new Secretary General Istvan Kovacs [HUN] and others.”
All of this would point to improved standing for the “new” IBA with the International Olympic Committee, which suspended AIBA in 2019. Not so fast.
In a five-page report submitted on 8 December, IOC Director General Christophe de Kepper (BEL) and IOC Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer Paquerette Girard Zappelli (FRA) concluded that the boxing federation still has a long way to go. But there is a “pathway” for it to end its suspension:
● Finance: When elected in 2020, Kremlev promised to make AIBA’s debts of $26.5 million or more go away, and he said he has done so. This was apparently through a lucrative, but short-term deal with Russian energy giant Gazprom extending through December 2022 that allowed AIBA to pay off a debt of about $8 million to Azerbaijan-based Benkons MMC. Gazprom’s agreement is enough to fund AIBA through June 2022, but not beyond.
Further, there is a contested debt of about $22 million to Hong Kong-based First Commitment International Trade Ltd. (FCIT) from 2014 to support what turn out to be a failed AIBA marketing program. AIBA says it owes FCIT nothing, and FCIT filed once again in October 2021 for payment; in the IOC’s eyes, this is an unresolved issue that needs resolving.
So is the IBA really a going concern, or a taco, ready to fold up? Said the IOC report:
“AIBA ability to continue operating is still highly conditional upon adherence to the contractual obligations with Gazprom, to the capacity of AIBA to continue to find other sources of revenues after the Gazprom contract expires and to whether the risk of a potential litigation from FCIT materialises.”
“It should also be noted that the International Federation’s dependence on a state-owned company may also raise concerns regarding the potential situation of conflict of interest and autonomy.”
● Credibility of competitions: While the IOC-operated boxing tournament at the Tokyo Games appeared to go well, consulting firm PwC reviewed the AIBA men’s World Championships held in Serbia in October and November. There, the refereeing and judging process did not go as planned: “PwC noticed various concerning examples of human interference from the originally documented processes” and “PwC concluded that the new AIBA mechanism is not as independent from human influence as it should be, and that consequently, it leaves an open pathway to issues similar to those encountered in the past.” Not good.
● Governance: The IOC seems satisfied with the recommendations of the Governance Reform Group … if they are rigorously followed.
The bottom line:
(1) “Should the above-mentioned conditions be met by AIBA to the satisfaction of the IOC, the suspension of AIBA’s recognition could be lifted in 2023.”
(2) “Boxing’s inclusion on the list of sports for the Olympic Games Los Angeles 2028 should be subject to AIBA meeting the above conditions.”
True, this is a pathway to reinstatement. But even if the governance reforms are taken seriously, the continuing problems with refereeing and judging and the very shaky finances of the IBA indicate it has an uphill battle ahead not just to reform itself, but to create a stable, credible business in the next 18-21 months.
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