Boxing and boxers could become collateral damage in Putin’s dirty war

Is it too early to talk about Gazprom, or is the happy golden half hour in Istanbul still a sufficient shield against evidence of power and greed and even more collateral damage in Putin’s dirty war . It’s a sentence, not a question.

For a women’s amateur boxing championship, there have certainly been a lot of big checks handed out in recent days. Totaling $2.4 million to be exact, including $100,000 for each of the twelve gold medalists in the weight class, $50,000 for silver and $25,000 for bronze, which in boxing happens twice because there is no fourth place. Calculate that in euros in your head.

In the previous 11 editions of these championships, all medalists have obtained a big zero. Raising that to $2.4 million is part of the big International Boxing Association (IBA) rebranding plan, with last year dropping any reference to the former International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) now that money speaks and swears.

No prizes for guessing who is pumping all the money into this operation. If the Gazprom signage on the corners of the ring in Istanbul didn’t reveal it, the Gazprom name and emblem on those celebratory cardboard checks given to the medalists certainly did.

It is majority-owned Russian gas giant Gazprom, with annual sales of more than $120 billion, the world’s largest natural gas company and Russia’s largest company by revenue. It’s no secret that Gazprom has enormous economic value to Putin’s government. Along with oil giants Rosneft and Lukoil, it paid $38 billion in taxes and other payments to the government in 2020.

Crown corporations

Gazprom is 38% owned by the Kremlin, with two other Russian state companies owning another 12%. No prizes for guessing where a lot of that money is going right now and it’s destroying somewhere starting with U.

This is why UEFA broke its 12-year sponsorship deal with Gazprom after Russia began its military invasion of Ukraine, the deal worth around 44 million euros per year. year. German team Schalke 04 also dropped Gazprom as shirt sponsor. In March, the European Union banned all investment in Russia’s energy sector, including Gazprom, and the US and UK governments are among those adding new sanctions.

According to knowledgeable Inside the Games website, the Gazprom deal pumps around $31 million into the IBA. We don’t know for sure because IBA says it’s “commercially confidential”, but it’s hard to see where the money is coming from.

Since December 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has suspended all funding from the IBA, formerly AIBA, given its history of corruption, and questioned the agreement with Gazprom last December, well before the invasion. . Last week, he again detailed in writing his “significant concerns” about governance, the integrity of judges and the financial viability of the organization.

Boxing, as you must be tired of hearing, is struggling to survive as an Olympic sport. The man essentially responsible for this process is Umar Kremlev, a 39-year-old Russian businessman who, at the IBA’s extraordinary congress last Saturday, won a new four-year term as IBA President. , until 2026.

Not after an election, by the way, but rather by acclamation after his main rival, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, along with four other candidates, were deemed ineligible 24 hours before by the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit for “ having campaigned outside the electoral period”.

Election

Barely hiding his fear of where the IBA was headed, Van der Vorst appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which delayed the election for another 24 hours, before the Kremlev proceeded anyway. .

This is where things get interesting. The only thing we know for sure about Umar Kremlev is that his name is not Umar Kremlev. His real name is Umar Lutfuloev, but he changed that after allegations of criminal convictions ahead of his election as General Secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation in 2019.

IBA statutes state that all applicants must be able to prove that they have never been convicted of a criminal offence, but Lutfuloev was reportedly convicted twice of racketeering. The McLaren Independent AIBA investigation, published in December 2021, also alleged that he failed to disclose on a compliance form that he had changed his former name (from Umar Lutfuloev) under which he had a criminal record.

Kremlev also served on the IBA’s executive committee after Gafur Rakhimov was elected president in 2018, despite his status with the US Treasury Department as “one of Uzbekistan’s top criminals”, known to Interpol. as “a prominent person involved in the heroin trade” who was linked to the organized crime group Thieves-in-Law.

Meanwhile, before taking over the IBA presidency in December 2020, Kremlev claimed he would personally write off the organization’s debt of $16 million. The source of this money has never been revealed. Last August, speaking at International Boxing Day in Belgrade, Kremlev declared IBA “debt free”, just like that, claiming to have raised $50 million in the seven months since his election.

motorcycle group

Kremlev previously belonged to the Night Wolves, a pro-Kremlin biker group, has in the past praised Putin for his support and, after his re-election last Saturday, was praised by Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin, who told Tass news agency “It is particularly significant that his re-election took place at a difficult time for Russian sport. I am sure that under Kremlev’s leadership, the International Boxing Association will continue to develop successfully.

The IOC isn’t so sure, raising the issue again during its committee session in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Friday. President Thomas Bach said relations with Russia had “deteriorated significantly in recent years”, saying the country was responsible for “personal threats against individuals”.

As it stands, boxing has been pulled from the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics, the IOC should run the show at Paris 2024, like it did in Tokyo, unless the IBA cleans up properly. his act.

Kremlev looks fearless, clearly leading the sport down the money lane anyway. The IBA has no intention of abandoning any ties with Gazprom, or Russia for that matter, not so long as power and greed stand in the way.

The IBA had no choice but to ban Russia and Belarus from sending boxers to Istanbul, or risk someone marching around the ring in their Z robes, but with just as much support. and Russian approval, could it be sport and especially boxers end up as collateral damage to Putin’s dirty war. It’s a sentence, not a question.