The Olympic Rings in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Apaydin Alain/ABACA
shrouded in doubt

Boxing likely to remain on schedule for 2024 Olympics but in serious peril for 2028

There are also concerns that lightweight rowing – in which Ireland have won medals in Rio and in Tokyo – will be removed from the 2028 Games.

THE OLYMPIC FEDERATION of Ireland (OFI) are confident that boxing will be on the programme for the next year’s Olympics in Paris but are extremely concerned it will not be included at the Los Angeles Games in 2028.

Among the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) concerns for the provision of boxing at Paris 2024 is whether they will simply have enough referees and judges to run the tournament. The pool of available referees and judges has shrunk under a vetting procedure instituted after the McLaren report into bout-manipulation at the Rio Games in 2016, and Th42 understands that some referees and judges under the International Boxing Association’s (IBA) aegis have been warned they may lose out on future work if they agree to work with the IOC. 

The OFI say the IOC’s strong commitment to athletes means the sport will remain on the agenda for the 2024 Games, but the prospect of its inclusion in 2028 is becoming increasingly remote. 

Boxing is Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport – the sport accounts for half of Ireland’s total medal haul – but its long-term place at the Games is threatened by the IOC’s deepening rift with boxing’s Russian-led global governing body, the IBA.

The IOC formally suspended its recognition of the IBA back in 2019, citing serious issues around the IBA’s “finance, governance, ethics and refereeing and judging.” The inquiry followed the controversy that engulfed boxing at the 2016 Olympics, at which a 2021 report by Professor Richard McLaren found there were systemic and widespread corruption of bouts. 

Rather than remove boxing from the Olympic Games in 2019, the IOC instead decided to organise the competition itself, running its own qualification tournaments separate to the IBA. The IOC initially agreed to replicate that arrangement for the 2024 Olympics, but a statement just prior to Christmas suggested they would instead simply remove the sport from the Paris Games as relations with the IBA hit a new low. 

An extraordinary IBA congress in September last year voted against holding a new presidential election, allowing Russian incumbent Umar Kremlev to remain in post, despite a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling that a rival Dutch candidate, Boris van der Vorst, had been wrongly prevented from standing for president earlier in the year. 

The IOC reacted to this by stating through a spokesperson that the IBA “has no real interest in the sport of boxing and the boxers, but is only interested in its own power”, while raising concern over a renewed sponsorship deal with Russian state gas company Gazprom. The IOC said their reactions to the IBA’s decisions “may have to include the cancellation of boxing for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.” 

The Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) sought clarity from the IOC on the matter, however, and say they are confident that boxing will remain on the card in Paris. 

“We are confident that boxing will be at the Olympics in 2024, [there is] a massive commitment from the IOC”, said OFI President Sarah Keane. “The challenge is whether they [the IOC] are going to have the people required to run the tournament. Ultimately they oversee the running of the Olympic games and are not supposed to running events within the Olympic games, and they thought they would just be doing this for Tokyo.” 

OFI Chief Executive Peter Sherrard echoed those sentiments, stressing the IOC are led by a “a good sense of the duty of care to the athletes.” 

The 2028 Games are a very different story. 

“2028 is the concern”, says Sherrard. “I don’t think it’s registered in people’s minds it is not going to be on the programme for 2028.” 

While the IOC have agreed to run their own qualification tournaments for 2020 and 2024, they are unwilling to do so again for 2028. They need the sport’s governing body to reassume control of the process, though that will not happen while relations remain so poor with the IBA. 

Relations have soured even further in recent weeks, with the IBA unilaterally announcing last month that their forthcoming World Championships will act as qualifying competitions for the Olympics.

This is untrue: the IOC will not recognise these competitions and will instead run their own qualification tournaments ahead of the Games, with Irish athletes eligible to qualify via the European Games, which will be held in Krakow in June. 

“It’s parallel universe stuff; Walter Mitty stuff”, said Sherrard. 

The OFI clarified the issue for the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, who ultimately voted not to send teams to the IBA’s World Championships this year. 

The ante may yet be upped further: the IOC may yet decide to take a further step and formally de-register the IBA from the Olympic movement, a significant step that would likely end up at the Court 0f Arbitration for Sport. Asked whether the IBA would simply just ignore any potential CAS ruling, Keane said, “that’s likely to be the position, but it enables something to happen if that happens. Or else boxing is just completely out.” 

press-conference-by-international-boxing-association-iba IBA President Umar Kremlev. Sondeep Shankar Sondeep Shankar

The something that may happen may be the emergence of a new governing body recognised by the IOC. Ireland are among 25 federations part of a possible alternative: the Common Cause Alliance, which has campaigned for the inclusion of boxing at the Olympics and backed Boris van der Vorst in his challenge to IBA president Kremlev. But it is thought that, for the moment at least, this primarily Western-led alliance lacks legitimising global membership. 

The OFI are also reckoning with a separate potential blow to Ireland’s medal prospects to the 2028 Games, with World Rowing considering the removal of lightweight rowing from the Olympic schedule. Paul and Gary O’Donovan won silver for Ireland in the lightweight double sculls at the 2016, before Fintan McCarthy joined Paul O’Donovan to win gold at the same event and won gold in Tokyo. 

A final decision has not yet been made, but Sherrard admits that “the reality is that is is moving in that direction.” 

“[Rowing Ireland] are very much aware of it, and to be fair, Antonio [Maurogiovanni, High Performance Director] has been transitioning and looking at different weight classes. They also have beach rowing coming in: that’s experimental at the World Beach games, which we will do this year.

“Apparently the argument used was that you don’t have light and heavyweight in basketball and so on, so why have it in rowing. It is a disadvantage to us.” 

Keane also confirmed that Ireland will not be boycotting the 2024 Olympics over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Ukraine have threatened to boycott the Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes are permitted to compete, and have sought support among Western allies. A boycott of the Games from Ireland is not on the agenda, however. 

“Ireland will not be boycotting the 2024 Olympic Games”, said Keane. “Full stop. If our athletes decide they don’t want to go, that is up to them. But we will not be boycotting. The only people who lose out of that is the athletes and teams.

“Our board has discussed that and at this point in time that’s the consensus of the board. That is the very strong feeling at the moment, and that too of the athletes commission.” 

The IOC is exploring ways in which Russian and Belarussian athletes will be allowed to compete at the Games as a neutral, and thus not representing or represented by their nation’s flag. 

Sports minister Thomas Byrne TD last month joined a statement signed by 33 other sports ministers across the world calling for the continued exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Olympic Games. 

“We had discussions with the minister”, said Keane, “and his position is he will not interfere with the autonomy of the OFI and does not want to do anything that is anti-athlete. So he will state the government’s position very clearly, but he will leave us to do our business.”

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