Ludo  Saenz

Today's publication of the seven candidates standing for President of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) marks the official starting gun on a race that will shape the future of the sport and play a big part in deciding whether it will retain its place on the Olympic programme.

AIBA, the organisation that truly represents amateur boxing worldwide and has a long and proud history stretching back to 1946, has been without an elected President since Uzbek businessman Gafur Rakhimov stepped down in March 2019 over accusations of his ties to "criminal activities" in Central Asia.

Rakhimov has never been prosecuted and he claimed these allegations were all "politically motivated".

Since he stepped down, AIBA has been led by interim President Mohamed Moustahsane of Morocco, who is among the seven candidates announced today ahead of the election at a virtual conference on December 12 and 13.

The total of seven candidates who confirmed their nominations before the deadline on November 2 is the most in AIBA's history. But, which of them are serious contenders and up to the task?

The seven include a doctor, a lawyer, a referee, sports administrators and businessmen. All the candidates have announced similar plans, to improve AIBA's governance, finance, refereeing and judging, as well as restore its recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The IOC suspended AIBA in June 2019, meaning Tokyo 2020 will be the first time since AIBA was founded that it will not organise boxing at the Olympic Games.

Many of these candidates claim they never played an active part in the negligent previous administrations, which, with horrendous governance and undeniable traces of corruption, have pushed AIBA to the brink of extinction and led to its exclusion from the IOC.

The first candidate to announce his campaign was Suleyman Mikayilov from Azerbaijan. A former amateur boxer and AIBA boxing judge and official, Mikayilov, also a lawyer and politician in his native country, has served as an active member of the AIBA Executive Committee since 2010.

In an audacious and ambitious move, Mikayilov tried to bypass the right of each National Federation in Europe, in the standard AIBA Presidential electoral process, by presenting himself as the sole candidate for the continent.

His proposal for the European Boxing Confederation (EUBC) to support his single candidacy for President of AIBA was soundly defeated last September at an extraordinary EUBC Executive Committee meeting, raising serious questions about Mikayilov's real leadership in his own region.

Azerbaijan's Suleyman Mikayilov was the first candidate to announce he was standing for AIBA President but failed in a bold bid to get support as Europe's exclusive candidate ©Suleyman Mikayilov
Azerbaijan's Suleyman Mikayilov was the first candidate to announce he was standing for AIBA President but failed in a bold bid to get support as Europe's exclusive candidate ©Suleyman Mikayilov

Azerbaijan is also in the middle of a grave political and territorial conflict with next door neighbour Armenia, a traditional amateur boxing powerhouse. AIBA needs stability and the last thing it wants is to be drawn into a regional conflict that could limit who its President can communicate and deal with.

The Dominican Republic Boxing Federation (FEDOBOXA) nominated Domingo Solano for AIBA President. 

After 38 years as President of FEDOBOXA and currently the honorary AIBA vice-president, the experienced Dominican possesses a remarkable resume and is known in his country, and the Latin-American region, for the strength of his character and decency.

Unfortunately for Solano, last month FEDOBOXA transferred a total of $4,800 (£3,600/€4,000) to the Americas Boxing Confederation (AMBC) to cover the dues of nine National Federations in the Americas, in order for them to be eligible to vote at the AIBA Congress and Presidential election. Justified or not, this act appeared to be a violation of election rules, hurting Solano's campaign.

Certainly, Solano has no direct involvement with these payments since he no longer leads FEDOBOXA. But his own countrymen may have overreached their boundaries and now find themselves with a served complaint from the AMBC, headed by Argentinian Osvaldo Bisbal, to the AIBA Disciplinary and Ethics Commission.

AIBA vice-president and President of the Asian Boxing Confederation, Anas Al Otaiba, of the United Arab Emirates, became the third official to publicly declare his intention to run for the highest post.

Although businessman Al Otaiba's credentials are impressive, he is seen by observers as too close to former AIBA President Rakhimov, who has a home in the UAE and business interests. Any association with Rakhimov could be fatal for a candidate.

The Dutch Boxing Federation nominated its President, Boris van der Vorst. While the businessman is highly regarded within his own governing body, as a "reformer" and "revitalizer" who presides over the EUBC Passion for Boxing Commission, he is largely unknown in the international arena.

Another European candidate and international referee, German Ramie Al-Masri, threw his hat into the ring just before nominations closed. 

Despite being chairman of the Referee's Commission at the German Boxing Association, he has no apparent top administrative experience at AIBA or his own national federation. Al-Masri also claims to have worked in the development of the AIBA database, where he "acquired a profound knowledge about the processes inside AIBA".

Surprisingly, Moustahsane is also standing for election having served as the interim President for 18 months.

Without doubt, the medical doctor from Morocco is a leading contender. He knows the inner workings of AIBA and has taken a solid leadership role while AIBA navigates through its reforms and its suspension from the IOC.

Moustahsane, though, was expected by most observers to step aside. His last-minute decision to stand for election, shortly before the deadline for candidates, has angered some within AIBA who were unaware of his plans. It could lead to the loss of valuable votes.

Russian Boxing Federation secretary general Umar Kremlev is so far the only one of the seven candidates to have publicly laid out his plans ©Zoom
Russian Boxing Federation secretary general Umar Kremlev is so far the only one of the seven candidates to have publicly laid out his plans ©Zoom

The strongest candidate, by far, appears to be Russian Umar Kremlev, the vice-president of the EUBC and an AIBA Executive Committee member. The 38-year-old secretary general of the Russian Boxing Federation (RBF) has shown immense interest to save AIBA, actively campaigning on their behalf at international level.

He has suggested ways to improve AIBA's finances and has brought attention to amateur boxing as a great sport for the youth. He managed two amazing AIBA World Championships last year, and strengthened the AIBA brand through his promotional efforts as chairman of its Marketing Commission.

Kremlev presented his electoral manifesto with an ambitious work plan, including raising substantial funds though corporate sponsors to pay off the millions of dollars in debt accumulated by AIBA under the previous administrations.

His strategies include establishing boxing academies on every continent, to train athletes, coaches, referees and judges. The Russian called for the unity of all AIBA members and promised to continue his promise of more transparency.

So far, Kremlev is the only candidate to have faced the international media, after he presented his plans at an online press conference. His can-do attitude has transformed the RBF in less than four years. He can clean up the mess at AIBA too.

Kremlev's strong credentials include launching the Global Boxing Forum, which was convened for the first time in early February 2018, in Sochi. It has already become a platform for open dialogue between representatives of the world boxing community, from more than 130 countries, as well as the heads of major boxing organisations, athletes, Olympic champions, world champions and promoters.

Kremlev's strong leadership has created his critics, especially those who were an integral part of failed administrations in AIBA's recent past. But he has a proven track record in boxing, with strong support from many National Federations and without the baggage of those past administrations.

Kremlev has only been an AIBA Executive Committee member since 2018 and has no ties with the disastrous administrations of CK Wu and Rakhimov.

AIBA needs a strong President who can bring all its National Federations together, to work as a united, independent, front.

Kremlev has the resources and real capabilities to do just that. He would bring leadership and vision to the Presidency, along with the energy, dynamism and determination essential to rebuild AIBA, and bring it back into the Olympic family in time for Paris 2024.