IBA has announced prize money for Olympic medallists. IBA

After setting a trend in boxing and seeing World Athletics follow through for the upcoming Olympics, the International Boxing Association (IBA) announced on Wednesday it plans to pay medallists while also guaranteeing them rights to future title fights, a groundbreaking decision in the sport.

Just 58 days before the Paris Games are about to start, another fight between those who defend the right of athletes to monetary compensation in elite sporting events and others who consider such financial transactions a historic break from Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s original concept of amateurism has begun.

It is not in a ring, but rather in the court of public opinion where IBA president Umar Kremlev has opted to fight this battle for what he calls “transparency and fairness” in the world of sport.

IBA’s latest swing came mid-week, asit announced in an official statement its bold decision to award all Olympic champions and medallists of Paris 2024 allotted prize money, an unprecedented move in boxing’s history, “aimed at supporting the athletes, coaches, and National Federations, as well as underlining IBA’s commitment to delivering the best support for its athletes, based on their hard work and dedication to the sport of boxing”.

The Olympic Games already allow professional boxers to compete after many years of only accepting amateur participation. The transition, that started in the 2016 Rio Games, followed the path of other team sports like football or basketball, but has not yet included the payment of prize money to all athletes, a delicate issue that still sparks fierce debate among officials, media members, fans and, of course, its expected main benefactors, in this case boxers.

‘We support all our athletes participating in the 2024 Olympics, and on behalf of the entire international boxing community, I am extremely proud to announce that all Paris gold medallists in the boxing tournament will receive a substantial financial reward of $100,000 (€92,000). Out of this amount, the athlete will receive $50,000, their National Federation will receive $25,000 (€23,000), and their coach will receive $25,000. For a silver medal, $50,000 prize money will be awarded, with the athlete receiving $25,000, and the remaining $25,000 being distributed evenly between the coach and the National Federation. For a bronze medal, we will provide $25,000, of which $12,500 (€11,500) will go to the athlete, and $12,500 will again be distributed evenly,” Kremlev detailed in IBA’s statement. “Additionally, athletes who lost in the quarter-finals and finished 5th, will each receive $10,000 (€9.200) from IBA, making the total prize money fund commitment equalling more than $3.1 million (€2.8 million) distributed to over 100 boxers.”

IBA and other international federations and associations have often wondered aloud why most, if not all the of the International Olympic Committee’s budget is destined for national Olympic Committee executives instead of the main protagonists who sacrifice their bodies for the good of the sport. A passionate debate has ensued, with many advocating for a more realistic 21st Century approach to the Games, rather than Coubertin’s more romantic and inevitably dated view of Olympism.

“Our athletes and their efforts must be appreciated. IBA offers opportunities and invests considerably in our boxers, they remain as the focal point, and we will continue to support them at all levels,” Kremlev insisted.

IBA president Umar Kremlev has vowed to pay medal-winning boxers in Paris 2024. IBA
IBA president Umar Kremlev has vowed to pay medal-winning boxers in Paris 2024. IBA

The Russian is not alone in this quest. Back in April, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe also advocated for what he considered a much-needed updating of the economic balance between scene-setters and scene-makers: Track & Field Paris 2024 medallists would also be awarded prize money, the international association announced.The blowback from the IOC, most notably current president Thomas Bach, was imminent, and some national Olympic committees, like Africa’s ANOCA even went as far as to label the decision “repugnant”. Bach simply stated that “the money should be used for the development of the sport," in an interview with the BBC.

Following multiple statements on the necessity of the move, IBA has since joined and even gone further than World Athletics in this athlete-empowerment initiative that is also reflected in the United States’ recent landscape shift in College sports, where a settlement was reached Thursday between the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the so-called five power conferences in order to finally legally pay their student athletes. The association, which was founded in 1906 and strictly enforced amateur status for students despite huge profits from ticket sales, merchandise revenue and national TV deals, decided to reach a deal and re-set the scale after decades of social uproar and legal battles, paving the way for schools to reward their money-generating superstars once and for all.

With no such window to strike a similar deal with the IOC, which it deemed “unable to create conditions for the athletes”, IBA decided to move forward on its own on Wednesday. “We pride ourselves on being among the pioneers in rewarding the athletes for their Olympic successes,” Kremlev underlined. “As IBA President, I will always fight for our athletes’ well-being, and this step is consistent in terms of the existing commitments we have already taken. I am looking forward to this opportunity to honour the new champions, medallists, and quarter-finalists from Paris 2024.”

Though the announcement is recent news, IBA had been forecasting this would happen for some time. Its boss, in particular, said as much a month ago, when outlining IBA’s perspective on the matter. "We must be able to feed our families and make money from boxing. I can state categorically that the IBA should invest in boxing and not make money from it. We must continue to prove through our actions that boxing is not only a sport to be practised for health and fitness, but that it is also a means of advancement for many, it can even be a career," Kremlev said,

Another benefit for gold medallists? Their eligibility to fight for the champions’ titles at IBA Champions’ Night events. ‘We are setting a clear example for many on how International Federations should be treating their champions. This is real support with real actions, a thing that has become rare in the international sports environment. We are happy to be the lead sport to have this opportunity to support our boxers and reward them for their hard work and dedication,” said Chris Roberts OBE, IBA Secretary General and CEO.

The association also stated that a special awards ceremony to honour the Paris Olympic medallists will be announced shortly and that the prize money will be awarded following their successful passing of respective anti-doping procedures.