Boxing’s Latest Brouhaha – This past week delegates from 88 amateur boxing federations convened in Lausanne, Switzerland for a confab arranged by AIBA, the world governing body for amateur boxing. The big news coming out of the meetings was the announcement that professional boxers would be allowed to compete in the Olympics, effective immediately. Twenty-six slots for the forthcoming Rio games are up for grabs at a qualifying tournament in Venezuela next month. Pros are welcome to compete, but must have the approval of their national federation.
“This is a momentous occasion for AIBA, for Olympic Boxing, and for our sport as a whole, and represents another great leap forward in the evolution of boxing,” said AIBA president Ching-Kuo Wo in a formal statement released on June 1. “Our mission is to continue to make brave decisions in the best interest of our boxers and for the good of the sport.”
To those immersed in the world of amateur boxing, the announcement came as no surprise. Mr. Wu, a Taiwanese architect who began his tenure as president of AIBA in 2006, has been a long-time proponent of lifting the amateur restriction on Olympic boxers. In 2013, he championed a rule change that opened the competition to professionals with fewer than 15 paid fights. The new rule eliminates that ceiling.
Only four of the 88 delegations voted against Mr. Wu’s proposal. However, the reaction to it has been overwhelmingly negative.
The British Boxing Board of Control has called upon AIBA to reconsider: “It is against the spirit of the Olympics, disrespectful to the many GB amateur boxers who, throughout the Olympic cycle compete around the world in qualifying tournaments,” said the organization in a press release. The World Boxing Council called the move “shameful.”
Some have expressed alarm that this new ruling opens the door to egregious and potentially dangerous mismatches. However, former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan thinks this is an over-reaction. McGuigan notes that a top-flight professional will have to modify his training to gear up for a three-round sprint, as opposed to a 12-round marathon, and that this will work in favor of the boxer whose complete body of work has been in the “sprints.”
Several prominent professional boxers have admitted to being teased by the idea of competing in the 2016 Olympics and Amir Khan, a 2004 silver medalist, has taken it a step further, beating the drums for a spot on the Pakistani team. Khan was born in England, but there is a precedent for a boxer representing the homeland of his parents.
The new ruling isn’t expected to have much impact this year. Amateur federations are unlikely to let an established professional fighter leapfrog a boxer they have nurtured, not with the Rio games so close at hand. However, the ruling could have a big impact in 2020 – assuming it isn’t overturned in the interim.
Check out The Boxing Channel video “Ray Flores Talks Pro Boxers in the Olympics”.