By Alan Hubbard
Joe Joyce’s sixth round stoppage of valiant Carlos Takam on Queensberry’s action packed promotion at Wembley last weekend brought a reminder that the amiable artist from south London exactly five years ago was in the process of bringing home an Olympic silver medal from the Rio ring.
No doubt the Juggernaut is watching with interest from afar as his pal and former teammate Frazer Clarke leads the GB squad towards a record medal haul in the current Tokyo Games.
At the time of writing the British men and women boxers were on course for a guaranteed fistful or more, among them sweet Caroline Dubois, the highly talented little sister of the hitherto unbeaten Daniel Dubois, whom Joyce brought to his knees but is now on his way back.
Both internationally and nationally the British heavyweight scene has rarely been more vibrant. Not only are our big men dominating the world but Britain has had a super-heavyweight on the podium in the last three Olympics.
The bronze medal of Liverpool‘s big hitter David Price in Beijing, in 2008, was followed of course by the gold medal triumph of Anthony Joshua in London four years later and the silver success of jumping Joe in 2016. As we await to see what colour Clarke, already certain of a bronze, can finally acquire.
Exciting times for British boxing, especially of some of those thumping their way to glory alongside their compatriots in a variety of other sports in Tokyo are sure to join the professional ranks when they return home. It will be good to see some heading in Queensberry’s direction.
However, our boxers are fighting for more than personal pride and national achievement, the very future of the sport as an Olympic event.
For boxing has come perilously close to being KO’d from the Games by an increasingly “woke” International Olympic Committee determined to see more esoteric pursuits introduced into the Games. Skateboarding, surfing and even climbing up gymnasium walls are among those now on the view in Tokyo. What next, hopscotch?
It is true that the sport has not done itself any favours with its governance in recent years but it does seem that there has been something of a revolution to get it back on course. Another Russian Revolution, in fact.
Those of venerable enough age to remember Mikhail Gorbachev, the benevolent Putin predecessor who opened up the then Soviet Union to the western world, may well liken him to the new head honcho of AIBA, the international boxing body who seems to have brought his own form of gloved glasnost to the Olympic Rings.
Rich Russian benefactors are two a rouble to the international sports stage but the timely arrival of Umar Kremlev may well have rescued boxing as it floundered on the ropes under the sceptical scrutiny of the IOC.
I have no axe – or in this case hammer and sickle – to grind. I have never met or spoken with Mr Kremlev – but it appears that so far in his role as AIBA President he has not put a fist wrong.
The 39-year-old certainly knows he has a fight on his hands as boxing, despite its inherent traditions within the Games, is not popular with those in the IOC who, as I say, would like it to see it replaced with something more fanciful and less contentious.
Kremlev must sort out the tangled web left under the jurisdiction over the years by former presidents. He has taken over an organisation beset by fiscal impropriety, dodgy (some might say diabolical) judging and refereeing and various other aberrations which took the IOC to the brink of declaring the sport non-grata.
This would’ve been a tragedy for, as I say, in the past boxing has provided more than its fair share of glorious episodes of skill and courage which have become Olympic bywords.
Looking back on the late 80s Gorbachev emerged with a philosophy that was alien to his hardline predecessors in the Kremlin. We recall Margaret Thatcher, then the British prime minister, declaring after meeting him that he was a man she could do business with.
Might the IOC president, Thomas Bach now be saying the same about Kremlev? One hopes so for boxing will be a core sport in the Covid-hit Tokyo Games, having shown in the run-up to the delayed but currently well presented Olympics that it can cope with the pandemic and provide scintillating entertainment for the TV cameras, even without a live audience.
On his watch the preliminary tournaments we have seen so far have been perfectly organised and scandal free. True, in the European qualifying event a young Jordanian boxer died, but this could not be blamed on any presidential lack of duty of care. Such tragedies can happen in any sport – as we almost witnessed recently in the Euro football Championships.
Thankfully it no now seems that pledges of reform will become reality and that the officiating horrors of Rio 2016, among many others, will not be repeated. But if they are, swift retribution will follow on from on high.
It would have been a tragedy indeed if boxing, one of the inaugural sports of the Olympics, was lost to The Games.
Again, I do not know Olympic boxing’s new chieftain but I like the cut of his jib. He is determined to put AIBA back on a firm financial footing and deal with any scandal among biased judges. It is good to see that in the Tokyo tournament both male and female referees and judges are being fair.
“Finance has been a long-standing issue for the leadership of boxing, the sport I love,” he says. “It has put our position in the Olympic family in danger… I am thrilled that we have been able to seek to ensure a stable financial future for our organisation.”
Well, it certainly seems that Kremlev is a man boxing can do business with.