Reassessing unfair decisions such as the one that befell Roy Jones Jr. at the 1988 Seoul Games will help restore the International Boxing Association (AIBA) to the Olympic family, according to president Umar Kremlev.
In 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the International Boxing Association (AIBA) from the Olympic family over serious financial, judging and ethics breaches – a period during which the association’s acronym became synonymous with the word corruption across the sporting landscape.
Kremlev was highly critical of the organization’s inner workings back then; upon the resignation of former president Gafur Rakhimov in 2019, the then-Russian Boxing Federation Secretary General insisted the organisation had “got rid of the man who deceived the entire boxing community” and promised to “find a common language with the IOC.
Today, nothing in his attitude has changed. Since his appointment as president in December, the 38-year-old has made it clear that he intends to right the wrongs of previous management, which plunged AIBA into arrears running into the millions and all but destroyed its reputability as a functioning sporting federation.
Shortly after his AIBA election win in December, Kremlev released a statement informing the public that he would be working in the post for no salary, instead donating the funds he would have received to help veteran boxers, taking on the challenge to drag AIBA out of the doldrums of debt and repair a critically damaged reputation.
Speaking to RT Sport at the Boxing Progress Center in Moscow, the current AIBA chief outlined his vision to ensure the restore of AIBA’s integrity and return to the Olympic family, inspire and educate children through the sport and crack down on corruption.
He also discussed whether Roy Jones Jr will finally receive an Olympic gold medal after 33 years.
Since becoming president, you have brought in reforms. As part of that, on the day after you became president, AIBA adopted a new constitution to pave its way back into the Olympic family. Three months on, is AIBA on the right track back?
Firstly, we’ve taken on work in the last three months that hasn’t been done for the past 75 years. Today, we have an Executive Committee, a Board of Executive Directors that meet practically every week, not once every six months, as they did before. We have a commission.
We have, for the first time in AIBA history, created a board of champions which consists of world, continental and Olympic champions. And they will take part in these reforms. They will be advisers in the running of tournaments, the running of forums. We plan to run once-a-year forums. And so every three months we run continental forums. Our last one in Asia finished on March 15. We don’t just have these forums for the sake of talking.
We have them to make a plan and achieve that plan. By the next forum, we should have already realized our goals. Today, a lot of sponsorship work is going on. Taking into account the recommendations given by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), AIBA is an independent organisation. No one can give the association commands. They can only give recommendations.
It’s the same with our partners and sponsors – they can only give recommendations. These recommendations are very correct and it is what we need more of, to correct the boxers. But the destiny of boxing will be decided by the boxers.
When you are on working trips, you often talk with the boxers to hear their views. How important is hearing those views in order to achieve those goals you set yourself?
When you head a plan that they have entrusted you with and you don’t talk with your trusted ones, how can you say anything about the development of sport? First, it’s my responsibility. Secondly, boxing for me isn’t work.
AIBA is my hobby, my love. I can’t turn a blind eye to what was going on in the past. Because of that, I came to smooth everything over, to clean it up, to make it the cleanest, most honest and transparent association. So that it is the most clean and honest and transparent association not just to the IOC, but for our partners, our sponsors, our boxers and national federations.
What is the AIBA? It is made up of every national federation – 204 countries – and the AIBA should operate in their interests. Because boxing is developing thanks to these national federations. And AIBA should work in the interests of these boxers and coaches. Thanks to those two kinds of people, the sport of boxing exists.
You worked an awful lot towards boxing – especially amateur boxing – remaining a clean sport. AIBA recently extended a contract with the International Testing Agency (ITA). How important are such partnerships important in the fight against doping?
Today, it is very important. In everyday life, everybody wants to be the best. There’s a lot of competition between countries. We don’t just want to work with the ITA. As part of this partnership, we agreed to conduct training every three months at our forums in order to improve the qualifications of our medical colleagues and to train new ones.
Every national federation should have doctors that are aware of the WADA system and regulations. This medical work is very important for our athletes so that they don’t break the rules. We are for clean sport. There shouldn’t be any of that. The Russian Boxing Federation fought for this. We fully suspended boxers who broke the rules. And it will be the same across all countries.
We don’t conduct training to find a few boxers guilty of breaking the rules and then say that we need to ban the whole national federation or the whole continent. No – I want to do things differently. I want to conduct face-to-face talks with the national federations so they can talk face-to-face with the boxers and trainers to tell them that this is forbidden. Only this way can we defeat doping. And this agreement with ITA is a huge move in that direction.
And we will educate all national federations across the world. That’s the goal of AIBA and not of the national federations. It is thanks to these national federations and boxers and coaches, we have such a sport that I currently head. I should work for them.
Do you think that it’s possible to get rid of doping from amateur boxing and if so, what should be done to make it so?
I will say that there’s not a lot of it in boxing. Not such a quantity of it like in other sports that I won’t name. To fully get rid of doping, every federation and every organization needs to control it and conduct training. Rules are changing and different medications are being included in the doping system. And when every national federation insistently puts this information before every athlete and coach and their management, then it will not happen.
The former AIBA administration – those who worked on the association before you became president – were guilty of corruption, if we’re talking honestly. What are you doing, and what needs to be done, so that people don’t associate AIBA with the word ‘corruption’?
What are we doing? First, we do democratic selection. The board of directors no longer takes part in any commissions. The board of directors is a separate level. We made every department focus on their own duties and not interfere with plans that aren’t theirs. We have a really big problem with judging. We have already appointed a new judging commission. The countries put forward candidates and from there we chose the commission. It was all democratic. Nobody appointed them.
Each nation put forward their suggestions and chose who will be the chairman who will be second in command and how it will take shape. Today, we are bringing back all appeals to all tournaments. No one will pay for appeals. We will need to rewatch 100 fights. It will be slow, watching all replays on all cameras. That will be our goal. That’s how we’ll achieve our goal.
Thanks to this system, we’ll clean the sport up. And those judges that break the rules three times will be banned for life. I’ve already made that clear. I’m telling each of them. If there are three major instances of rule breaking, even if they will not be replaced but they made a major misdemeanour, they’ll be banned for life and they’ll never work in boxing again. Because we can’t allow judges that aren’t qualified to work at world and continental championships.
And will you also punish those that are found guilty of doping in the same way?
Yes, the same. We’ll be hard on those who go against the laws of boxing. There won’t be any forgiveness. We have a board of champions. Our own athletes will decide that punishment. I precisely gave them that job.
We have independent disciplinary and ethics commissions. We have created everything democratically so that they should not have to depend on anyone. My goal, as president, is to facilitate the development of boxing.
On the subject of amateur boxing. There is one great amateur boxer – Roy Jones Jr – who you worked closely with him in the past.
Yes, he’s a friend. I listen to him. Why do I talk with boxers? I chose the way of personal contact. And I will go down that route. Why? Because I speak with a lot of champions and from inside I know what’s going on. He also says to me, “when will you give me my medal back? It’s a disgrace.”
[Editor’s note: Roy Jones Jr was defeated by South Korean Park Si-hun in the 1988 Seoul Olympics light middleweight gold medal match, despite greatly outlanding the home fighter.]
We all remember that fight. We should never let that happen again. And I want to make it so that there are such decisions, firstly, so that all reforms will be taken on together with all the national federations. I want all these reforms to be implemented so that even after me, nobody can change anything.
And will you give him a medal?
Well, we’ve talked to Roy. I want the AIBA to have a board of champions. That’s where the issue will be discussed. They will fairly judge who received an unfair decision, defend those boxers and return a just decision.
I would give that suggestion to all boxers and national federations because everything should be fair. I don’t want to discuss what was going on before me. I want to discuss what we will do. And put those words into action.
Roy has opened a lot of boxing gyms here in Russia. How important do you class his work for the development of boxing in Russia?
Honestly speaking, Roy Jones is an ambassador to the world – an ambassador of sport and not only of boxing. He’s an honest and open athlete. The fact that he’s fallen in love with Russia and that he has taken on Russian citizenship is a huge positive for our children. He’s loved not only by the kids in our country, but all over the world. Every country would love him as their countryman.
I can only say thank you and welcome him for such a decision. And what I see him doing now – he travels around towns, he’s developing boxing, talking with children. He does it for free. He doesn’t do it for money. It’s a huge plus and I’m only thankful. He flies to different countries. I would like him to come to our tournaments too. He’s an idol of every boxer.
His trainer [manager] said a rematch with Mike Tyson could take place in Russia and even on Red Square. How much of an entertaining event would that be if it took place?
I would support all of these ideas. You know why? Because they are childhood heroes. It’s the popularization of boxing. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Olympic, amateur or professional. It’s boxing. Boxing is boxing. Just the rules are different, fewer rounds or more rounds. I support all these ideas. Even if my support would be needed for something, I am ready to do it.
It is the popularization of boxing. For the AIBA, it’s also a huge step for children to get involved in boxing. What is the AIBA? AIBA is a governing body. A world governing body. A boxing governing body that provides you with a school. A pre-school, a school, a university, and then sends you on to work. That’s what AIBA is. And boxers that have come through our pre-school, school and studied at our university – there are different universities from which world champions and continental champions graduate.
It is the finishing school of the AIBA. You graduate from the AIBA, you become a world or Olympic champion – in pro boxing you will be absolutely unbeatable.