The Irish Athletic Boxing Association has released a blistering statement condemning "utterly and without reservation" the International Boxing Association's "illegal" suspension of the Ukrainian National Boxing Federation (FBU): "The IABA...stands in solidarity with our sister federation and calls for the immediate restoration of full IBA membership for the Ukrainian Boxing Federation."
The suspension was placed on the FBU last week for alleged government interference with matches, and has been widely criticized as an instance of Russian vindictiveness in connection with Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The IBA is currently led by Russian businessman Umar Kremlev, recently photographed with Putin at the opening of a new boxing facility in Moscow. The IBA also depends financially on Russian majority state-owned energy company Gazprom.
Under the suspension the Ukrainian team were not allowed to compete under their own flag or anthem in the ongoing European Junior Boxing Championships; the athletes withdrew from their matches in protest.
Reigning unified heavyweight champion Alexander Usyk, who won Olympic gold for Ukraine, expressed support for the team on social media: "You are great and thank you for showing the whole world your bravery and power of spirit. Ukrainians are strong-willed." Fellow Olympic gold winner and former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, who stayed in Ukraine to join the defensive forces there, also expressed his support for the athletes and criticized the IBA on social media.
The honor of our state is defended today by our athletes. The Euro Championship russian members of IBA leadership and vladimir prodyvus, wanted to force them to go out w/ the IBA flag as a neutral team.
They were not concerned about ultimatums & came out w/ the Ukrainian flag 🇺🇦! pic.twitter.com/LLQdi7BDN7
— Klitschko (@Klitschko) September 28, 2022
The suspension also prevented the FBU from casting any votes in the recent meeting to decide whether to allow a challenge to Kremlev's leadership ("holding a vote to hold vote", as the IABA statement scathingly called it in its criticism of the IBA's lack of "free and fair" elections). The challenge was denied by a strong majority.
The IBA has also refused to recognize the leadership of Kyrylo Shevchenko, president of the UFC, instead recognizing Vladimir Prodyvus, an ally of Kremlev and current vice president of the IBA.
The IOC has also condemned the IBA's actions, though in less strong terms than the IABA, promising to conduct a full review at its next meeting. The IBA has already been removed as a governing organisation in the Olympics; the Tokyo games were supervised by an IOC panel, as the 2024 Paris games will be. Boxing has been removed from the 2028 Olympics programme pending reform, which now seems unlikely, especially as Kremlev continued to double down in the recent meeting: "We shouldn't say Olympic boxing, we should say IBA boxing... I am working for you, not a side organization. No one else should have influence on the organisation."
If boxing loses its status as an Olympic sport, it will be a heavy blow for Irish sport; boxing accounts for 18 of Ireland's 35 Olympic medals. Ireland's Grace Conway and Niamh Keogh have both won at least silver medals at the ongoing European Championships and will be hoping to win gold in the finals over the next few days.