Boxing is a fragmented sport at the best of times with multiple entities governing, in particular in the professional landscape, where there’s a plethora of sanctioning bodies awarding title belts. The current crisis in the governance of Olympic boxing (which has traditionally been more unified), has now reached a crunch point with the International Boxing Association (“IBA”) having its International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) recognition withdrawn.
While that in itself is unprecedented, and worthy of examination, our interest was piqued by a dispute over use of data in this acrimonious affair…a good reminder of how important it is to get data privacy right.
Major concerns have arisen in recent years regarding the IBA’s governance, ethics, sustainability and transparency (including financial transparency and the apparent failure to execute a transparent and fair boxing qualification system). As a result, boxing has been a dominant theme at recent IOC Executive Board meetings.
The Olympic Games provides a huge platform for boxing, but does the sport’s Olympic future now hang in the balance? On Thursday 22 June 2023, the IOC held an extraordinary meeting in which it was decided that the IOC’s recognition of the IBA would be withdrawn pursuant to Rule 3.7 of the Olympic Charter (“OC”). The IBA will no longer be part of the Olympic movement.
In the interest of boxing athletes and the sport itself, boxing will remain at the Olympic Games Paris 2024. This is set to be managed by the IOC rather than the IBA. Further, as a consequence of the above decision, the IBA will not organise the 2028 Olympic Games boxing tournament in Los Angeles.
Background and context: Disputes between the IOC and the IBA
In 2019, the IOC suspended the IBA’s recognition as the international governing body for boxing over alleged governance issues and corruption.
In an attempt to reflect the reforms and improvements carried out by the IBA in the last two years, the IBA issued a 400-page report on 5 May 2023, with the aim of addressing each of the IOC’s governance concerns. In the report, the IBA said that it “did not find in the IOC Correspondence of 6 April 2023 any link to a specific rule of law that has been breached by IBA to be in the situation of potential withdrawal of the IOC’s recognition”.
On 2 June 2023, the IOC published a report on the situation with the IBA, outlining the IBA’s non-compliance with the OC. The IOC reported that the IBA had failed to fulfil the conditions in the IOC’s decision (regarding the IBA’S recognition) communicated to the IBA in December 2021.
The IBA sought to reverse the decision to recommend the withdrawal of the IOC’s recognition of IBA, which was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This led to the IOC’s formalising its decision on 22 June.
How is data protection relevant?
On the undercard to the main issues at play is a disagreement between the IBA and the IOC in relation to personal data relating to IBA technical officials. In March 2023, the IBA issued an open letter to the IOC alleging that the IOC breached data protection laws and/or a Data Transfer Agreement agreed between the parties in 2019, when the IOC contacted IBA Competition Officials inviting them to act as volunteer Officials for Paris 2024, which as explained above will no longer be under the patronage of the IBA.
Whilst the details of this data protection matter are unclear, the case underpins the importance of carefully considering (and if necessary, negotiating) roles and responsibilities (e.g. controller or processor) when sharing data amongst sports organisations. It’s essential to ensure that data sharing agreements accurately reflect the parties’ roles and, if appropriate, include clear rights and restrictions around the commercial exploitation or other use of data (whether personal data or otherwise).
World Boxing, a new entity set up in response to the issues around the governance of the sport, is gaining momentum and aims to seek IOC recognition, effectively replacing the IBA. Several high-profile boxing nations, including the UK and the USA, have moved away from the IBA and joined World Boxing.
In an effort to preserve boxing’s place at the Olympics, World Boxing pledges to “keep boxing at the heart of the Olympic movement” and aims to deliver a transparent organisation with strong governance structures. Setting up a new federation is no mean feat and World Boxing will have a lot of legal and non-legal issues to navigate. But like all sports organisations should, they’d be wise to take one lesson from these disputes and get their data privacy practices in good order from the outset.
If this saga has you thinking about your data practices, do get in touch – our Data, Privacy & Cyber team are here to help!