Some of the all time great boxers have participated in the Olympic Games, the likes of Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Oscar de la Hoya from the USA. Then there have been the great Cubans, Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Savon, and Guillermo Rigondeaux.
The sport has in recent times sadly been clouded in controversy at the Olympic Games, as scoring of bouts has been questionable, and there have been some decisions that have belied belief.
This is nothing new. In 1988 Roy Jones Junior was robbed of the Gold medal at the Seoul Olympics when the decision went to his Korean opponent. The judges were rumoured to have been pressured or bribed to favour the local fighter. Post fight one judge admitted the decision was a mistake, and all three judges ended up being suspended.
Four years earlier at the Los Angeles Games Australia’s Jeff Fenech was on the receiving end of a bad decision. He lost a controversial quarter-final bout to Yugoslavian Redžep Redžepovski. Fenech was initially announced as the winner, but after intervention by the Olympic Boxing Committee and a total recount, the decision was reversed. Journalists and many in boxing from around the globe were in agreeable that Fenech had been unfairly robbed of a chance to win an Olympic medal.
At the same Olympics future Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield was disqualified in his semi final bout for knocking his opponent out, allegedly after the referee had asked the boxers to ‘break.’ The referee later apologized to Holyfield for being out of position when he made the “break” call. The American had to settle for bronze. However Gold medalist Anton Josipovic of Yugoslavia was well aware of the controversy and how he possibly benefitted from it, as during the medal ceremony he famously pulled Holyfield to the top of the podium to join him.
The past two Olympic Games have sadly seen some more astounding decisions in Boxing, and more allegations of judges being influenced to favour one combatant. We have also seen more officials suspended. None of which is good for the sport.
Of course there are some stories that have grown with the passing of time. Take for example the 1908 Olympics in London. Only 22 nations competed, compared to the 207 that competed in Rio in 2016. In the Boxing at the 1908 games only four nations competed in five weight divisions. The nations were: Great Britain, Denmark, Australasia and France. Australasia was represented by one boxer, the famous Olympian Reginald “Snowy” Baker.
Baker lost the Middleweight final to Great Britain’s Johnny Douglas. In fact Great Britain won all five Gold medals, but as host nation they had more boxers competing, 32 in total, compared to Denmark’s two and France’s seven.
Baker claimed that there was bias towards the host nation’s boxers, he even went as far as to claim that Douglas’s father was the referee. Douglas’s father was in attendance ringside but in his role President of the Amateur Boxing Association, and was there to present the medals.
Douglas was like Baker a sportsman of some repute and went on to captain England at Cricket, and played football for his country too as an amateur. Baker competed in not only the boxing but also the diving and swimming. He too was a talented cricketer but it was on the rugby field that he represented Australia, as a scrum half in 1904.
Despite over 100 years of involvement in the Olympic Games it is sad to hear that crisis meetings are being held to try and keep the sport as part of the Olympics.
Mr. C.K. Wu, was elected President of AIBA (International Amateur Boxing Association) 11 years ago and set about making changes to amateur boxing that were always going to create problems.
Mr. Wu instituted programs that were intended to eliminate amateur boxing and make all boxers professionals. AIBA created a system in which they would become the promoters and managers of boxers. They intended to have professional boxers compete at the Olympic Games, which had always been the domain of the amateur. (The Gloves are Off)
Amateur boxing was where the greats learned their craft, and once they had won at the Olympic Games they knew that they had reached the pinnacle as an amateur, and it was now time to turn professional. As a result of the changes that AIBA was looking to implement too many boxers turned professional before they were ready, before they had learned the ringcraft to protect themselves in the professional ranks.
Wu was forced to resign from his position as President of AIBA in 2017. A new President is yet to be appointed but they will face a huge challenge as they try to re-establish AIBA’s credibility and start organising the Olympic competition for 2020 in Tokyo. The World body cannot afford any controversies this time around or it could be Boxing that is counted out of the Games for good.
There is no doubt that Rio was the nadir for Amateur Boxing at the Olympics. US head coach Billy Walsh was quoted as saying that he believed the decisions made at these Olympics were the worst since Roy Jones Jr in Seoul back in 1988.
Hopefully AIBA, which presently looks to be on the canvas, can rise before the count and continue to rally. Hopefully Tokyo will not be the final bell for Boxing at the Olympics, after all it has been contested at every Games bar 1912 since being introduced in St Louis in 1904. Now with Women also competing since 2008 it is a sport with a rich Olympic history. They key will be knocking out the controversies around the scoring.