Russian and Belarusian sportspersons have been sidelined from the world of sports for the last year, since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. They are either banned completely from sporting events, like the FIFA World Cups or Wimbledon, or else made to compete under a 'neutral flag', like the US Open tennis tournament.
India though is set to become the first host country for a sports event where that trend will change. The Women's Boxing World Championship in New Delhi, starting 15 March, is set to not just welcome back Russian and Belarusian boxers but also allow them to compete under their own flag, and with their national anthem.
The decision to let Russians back in competition was made by the International Boxing Federation (IBA) which incidentally is still led by a Russian, has a Russian-owned company as their major sponsor and for related and unrelated reasons, stands suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
"We run a sport. We are not concerned with the politics behind a sport. We want to give opportunity to sports people to be part of sports and these issues are best left to governments to deal with. We’re hosting a championship the principal of which is the IBA. We will g by what they say and what Govt of India says," said BFI President Ajay Singh when asked if there was any concerns regarding providing the platform for Russian sportspersons' full return.
While India chose to stay away from the politics of it, more than 10 countries including USA, Great Britain, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands have pulled out of the New Delhi event in protest of the inclusion of Russians.
And there is more. With the IBA suspended by the IOC, this World Championship, just one year before the Olympics, isn’t even an Olympic qualifier. IBA insists it is, but the International Olympic Committee doesn’t even recognise any events organised by the body and has their own qualification criteria for Olympic participation.
Bottom line - what could have been a golden chance for 12 of the Indian boxers at their home world championships to seal Olympic berths… is now simply another tournament for them.
'If it was a qualification event for the Olympics, it would’ve been even better because we all are after all preparing for the Olympics only. There is a little disappointment about it,' Olympic medallist Lovlina Borgohain told The Quint.
But an event losing an Olympic qualification status isn't the only repercussion that the world of boxing can face with the Russian incharge of the sport.
These very boxers though may have to see their Olympic dreams forcefully ended after the London edition next year because boxing isn’t even on the Olympic programme of the 2028 Olympics due of the IBA’s continued resistance of the IOC’s guidelines and concerns.
Having Russian Umar Kremlev as president may not have been as big a red flag if his stint’s extension wasn’t the result of a controversial vote in September where the body voted to not hold an election for a new president!
A vote before which the Boxing Federation of Ukraine was suspended for ‘government interference’.