Patrick Burke

If it was reassurance boxers wanted from this week's International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board meeting over their preparations for the Paris 2024 Olympics, it hardly delivered on that front.

"I will not speculate," was the start of IOC President Thomas Bach's response when asked whether boxing would feature as planned at next year's Games.

While recent fears about boxing's Olympic status has centred on it being left off the initial programme for Los Angeles 2028, it has been widely assumed it remains a shoe-in for Paris 2024. 

Although the International Boxing Association (IBA) was stripped of any involvement last year because of ongoing governance concerns, an IOC Boxing Task Force was able to manage the sport at Tokyo 2020 and there had been little reason to doubt a similar scenario could work again.

Putting it mildly, the IOC and IBA have had their differences, particularly since the controversial re-election of Umar Kremlev in May last year rubber-stamped at a Congress that put the very meaning into the word Extraordinary in September.

The IOC's decision on Russian and Belarusian athletes may have dominated this one, but it wouldn't be an Executive Board meeting without a latest expression of concern over the IBA's governance.

Indeed, the most recent letter to the governing body warned it is facing a probe into whether there are still "major concerns regarding IBA's practice and activities", which could lead to it being notified of potential non-compliance with the Olympic Charter and a report being presented at the next Executive Board meeting.

For fans of The Simpsons, it is getting to the point of Mayor Quimby's "polite but firm letter to Mr Burns' underlings, who, with some cajoling, will pass it along to him, or at least give him the gist of it".

The relationship between both parties is damaged most likely beyond repair under Kremlev, even if Bach insisted it was "not a question of a person" in December.

Semi-amusingly, the IBA continues to lay the blame for its troubles partly at the IOC's door because of the Presidency of its former Executive Board member CK Wu from 2006 until 2017.

The chances of boxing featuring at Los Angeles 2028 with any IBA involvement are virtually nil.

The IBA has objected to the IOC's appeal to its technical officials for their interest in participating in Paris 2024 qualifiers and the boxing tournament ©Getty Images
The IBA has objected to the IOC's appeal to its technical officials for their interest in participating in Paris 2024 qualifiers and the boxing tournament ©Getty Images

That does not mean the same can be said for the sport's chances. Despite the increasingly notable silence of Kremlev's biggest opponents in the sport - most prominently former Presidential challenger Boris van der Vorst who has still not tweeted since February 22 even through the Dutch Boxing Federation has boycotted the Women's World Boxing Championships in that time - a breakaway Federation or a plan B, C or D looks the most likely solution. 

The prospect of an Olympics in the United States without boxing is unthinkable and there is too much for the IOC and organisers to lose in terms of guaranteed ticket sales and international viewership.

Perhaps the IBA even knows that. Kremlev has after all previously boasted of taking "our own path" and told the IOC it has "no right to dictate to us how to live".

The IBA's brazen announcement in February that it had approved a qualification system for Paris 2024, months after it was taken out of its hands and the pathway then released by the IOC, at the time looked the latest wind-up attempt.

Yet it has proved the precursor to a much more serious row in which the IBA appears to have thrown the cat amongst the pigeons for the Olympics and posed a real threat to preparations at around 16 months out.

That is after the IBA declared their intention to refuse to play ball over technical officials taking part in events organised by the IOC.

The IOC had written to referees and judges to gauge interest over participating in Paris 2024 qualifiers and the Olympic boxing tournament, prompting a letter to those officials from IBA development director Chris Roberts in which he warned participation in an event approved by the governing body was "forbidden" without prior approval from the Board of Directors. 

He also suggested a "lack of respect of the general principles in terms of loyalty towards IBA" would be taken into account when looking to appoint officials for further events.

The International Federation for Sports Officials accused the IBA of holding judges and referees "hostage", but that did not stop it doubling down on its obstruction to the IOC's plans, even threatening legal action over claims contact details had been obtained "unlawfully" or in breach of a November 2019 Data Transfer Agreement. 

It accused the IOC of a "lack of common decency and cooperation", and turned the tables by expressing "deep concerns regarding basic IOC governance, impartiality, and transparency principles".

Prospects of the IBA being involved at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics under President Umar Kremlev appear remote, but it is having an impact on Paris 2024 preparations despite its ongoing suspension ©IBA
Prospects of the IBA being involved at the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics under President Umar Kremlev appear remote, but it is having an impact on Paris 2024 preparations despite its ongoing suspension ©IBA

The IBA's letter was the subject of discussions at the IOC Executive Board meeting, and Bach could not provide guarantees over boxing's presence at Paris 2024, replying he "will not speculate" when asked.

"We do not have any concerns with the sport of boxing nor with the boxers, but we have very serious concerns about the International Federation and some of their actions or non-actions," the German official insisted.

"All this must have an impact on our decisions."

That followed a warning from IOC spokesperson Mark Adams the day previously on the potential impact of the IBA's threats in its correspondence, and an insistence that a sport could only feature at the Games provided there had been a fair qualification procedure.

"We've obviously taken note of that, and I think our response would be if they really want to push ahead with what is contained in that letter, it would show that they have no interest in a fair competition and fair qualification for the Olympic Games," he said.

"The IOC can only of course accept a sport in the Olympic Games where there has been a full and fair qualification process. 

"It is the IOC which is in charge of the qualification process for boxing at the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.

"To make it clear - the IOC does not have a problem with the sport of boxing itself, nor with the boxers, but there are problems with this suspended federation.

"That's as far as I will go at this present time, but it's very clear to us that if the IBA pushes ahead with these proposals it will have quite some consequences."

IOC President Thomas Bach said he
IOC President Thomas Bach said he "will not speculate" on boxing's place at the Paris 2024 Olympics ©IOC/Greg Martin

He also insisted on a boxing Olympic qualifier at the Kraków-Małopolska 2023 European Games that "as far as we're concerned, that qualification is absolutely going ahead and we will have the people to be doing it".

At Tokyo 2020, referees and judges were selected by the Boxing Task Force from a pool of qualified individuals who were certified by what was then AIBA and reviewed to ensure they met criteria.

The IBA appears in a less cooperative mood this time.

It is not time to hit the panic button just yet and there remains demonstrably the will from the IOC for boxing to feature at Paris 2024, but it's a headache all involved could have done without, not least the athletes who continue to be caught in the middle of a dispute that has gone on for too long.