BY DAVID AVERILL Editor, Editorial Pages
Sunday, August 12, 2012
8/12/12 at 3:13 AM
It's time for the International Olympic Committee to do away with men's boxing as an Olympic sport.
Judges' decisions and scoring of the matches, always hinky, have gone from laughable to scandalous. The "sweet science," at least at the Olympic level appears to be rife with incompetence, dishonesty or both.
The International Amateur Boxing Association, known as AIBA, which governs amateur boxing worldwide, has tried at least twice since 1980 to overhaul the scoring system to minimize questionable decisions. It hasn't even come close, and the situation this year may be worse than ever.
Before this year's Olympic games in London were half-way completed, AIBA was already promising another revamp of the scoring system before the 2016 games in Rio. There is no reason to believe that the new scoring system, whatever it may be, will be any better than the last two.
The Olympics are supposed to celebrate individual competition - "faster, higher, stronger" - for its own sake, free of politics, nationalism, racism and other corrupting influences.
The most egregious boxing-related breach of the Olympic ideal at the London games, maybe ever, occurred in an early bantamweight match between boxers from Azerbaijan and Japan.
The Azerbaijan fighter was ahead on points at the end of the second round. But in the third and final round he went to the canvas six times. If he went down as the result of punches he should have been given two eight-counts and after the third knockdown the fight should have been stopped. If he flopped onto the canvas to avoid fighting, he should have been cautioned and then disqualified.
But the referee, from Turkmenistan, ignored the knockdowns/fall-downs and repeatedly stopped the clock to give the Azerbaijani time to get up and readjust his head gear.
The five ringside judges apparently were equally blind to what transpired in the ring, and they awarded the Azerbaijani the decision.
Adding intrigue to the outrage in the ring was the fact that almost a year ago, in September 2011, British Broadcasting Corp. News did an investigative story in which it was revealed that an Azerbaijan national had offered AIBA $9 million to guarantee that two Azerbaijan boxers would win gold medals at the London games. AIBA confirmed that a donation was made to one of the competitions under its umbrella, World Series Boxing, but that the gift would not influence judging at the London games.
The outrageous decision in the match between the Azerbaijani and Japanese fighters was almost immediately reversed by AIBA and the ring referee was fired and sent home. Apparently no action was taken against the ringside judges.
As it turned out, only one Azerbaijani boxer made it into the quarterfinal round.
That decision might have been the worst, but it was far from the only bad one.
AIBA also reversed a decision that went against an American boxer, welterweight Errol Spence Jr. His opponent, from India, committed nine holding fouls in the third round but the referee and judges ignored them. One official was disciplined as a result of that tainted decision. In another match, an Iranian fighter was disqualified mid-round for less than apparent reasons. An official in that match was disciplined but, curiously, the decision was not reversed.
Missing the picture
The new scoring system, used for the first time in London, is supposedly "computerized." What it means is that ringside judges are issued a keypad that enables them to record a clean scoring punch thrown by the fighter in red or the one in blue. Judges can also hit a button to deduct points from a fighter for a caution, but they are not obligated to do so. The three scores, of five, that are closest together are averaged to determine the winner.
The big problem is that the judges seem to miss or ignore clean scoring punches that everyone else, in the arena or watching on TV, can see. In match after match in London the scores seemed to bear little or no relation to what went on in the ring.
My complaint, by the way, is not sour grapes about the American team's sorry performances. Spence was clearly jobbed by the officials, but that decision was reversed. One other American might have been the victim of questionable scoring.
The United States Olympic boxing team once was a dominant one, producing the likes of Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and Evander Holyfield. It easily has more Olympic medals than any other country.
But it has fallen on hard times in the past 20 years. In the 2008 games in Beijing, only one boxer medaled. This year, of the nine-member team, only Spence made it to the quarterfinal round and he failed to win a medal. This is how bad it was this year: The U.S. coach, because he was involved with professional boxing in the past year was by rule not allowed to be at ringside. He had to scream his instructions from the stands.
Any competition that involves subjective judging - gymnastics and diving are others - is bound to have controversy. But Olympic boxing is almost nonstop controversy. It has been given second chances to clean up its act, but it hasn't. No scoring scheme will work unless it has experienced, competent and honest referees and judges, and the AIBA apparently is unable to come up with them.
Olympic boxing is simply too corrupt to continue.
David Averill, 918-581-8333
Boxers from Egypt (left) and Turkey compete during the men's light flyweight boxing competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. NG HAN GUAN/Associated Press