The purity of Olympic amateur boxing, sullied in the past by crooked officials and bum decisions, made a complete turn to the red-light district with the recent decision of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) to allow professional boxers to compete in the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Next month, a qualifying tournament will be held in Venezuela where 26 Olympic slots will be up for grabs, arguably for pro boxers who want to take a shot at an Olympic medal. Our very own Manny Pacquiao was invited by the AIBA but pro boxing’s only eight-division champion wisely turned down the offer. Had he accepted the invite, Pacquiao will have to go through the qualifying round to earn a spot in the Games. It remains to be seen how many pro boxers will take part considering the short window (the Olympics start some two months from now) and the fact that they will have to fight frequently in the tournament without pay.
The popularity of amateur boxing has taken a nosedive with the abject failure of the organizers to address allegations of massive cheating and bribery. There was even a point in time when proposals were made to take amateur boxing out of the Olympic calendar because of its tattered image. The decision to include pro boxers is to give the sport an instant face-lift and following, not to mention access to the huge money pot in pro boxing for AIBA. For the past couple of years, AIBA has been sponsoring quasi-professional tournaments like the World Series of Boxing. If the pro boxers who take part in this AIBA meets end up making it big in the pro ranks, then the AIBA stands to rake in money as these boxers are under contract with them. This makes the AIBA some sort of a promoter or manager.
The Olympic gold medal is the highest honor a young, fresh-off-his-pajamas boxer dreams of. The gold medal is the young fighter’s ticket to a lucrative career in the pro ranks. The Olympic tournament is also the ideal stage for the fighter to harness his skills before he makes the move to the pro ranks. This transition or progression is completely ruined when a former or incumbent pro boxing champion darts into the picture and bulldozes his way past the teenage amateur pug. Former world champion Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. minced no word in saying that “professional versus amateur boxers is a real crime. It is attacking the very roots of boxing. It endangers the lives and careers of young talented (amateur) boxers.”
Allowing the pros to just barge into the Olympic picture is unfair for the young boxers who invested time, sweat and blood to qualify for the Games. As if things cannot get any worse, the decision to remove the headgears in amateur boxing all the more exposes the young fighter to the deadly punches of a seasoned pro.
Thus far, there have been no takers from the top pros. Reigning world light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, a murderous and unbeaten puncher (29-0, 26 knockouts), had earlier expressed interest in representing his native Russia, but his handlers disclosed to ESPN that the champion is tied up to several contracts and cannot just make a cameo in Rio. Kathy Duva, the promoter of Kovalev, also cringed at the thought of what Kovalev’s fists might do to a young fighter.
The World Boxing Council (WBC), one of the most prestigious bodies in pro boxing, is completely opposed to the idea and recently announced that any pro boxer ranked within the Top 15 in any weight division who decides to take part in the Olympics will be removed from the WBC rankings for two years. This decision by the WBC could really force a pro boxer to think twice before going to Rio.
While it is true that pro athletes have been allowed to take part in other Olympic sports like tennis and basketball, the case of amateur boxing is totally different. Getting walloped in straight sets in a tennis match or absorbing a lopsided beating inside a basketball court will not expose the concerned athletes to life-threatening risks. It’s the complete opposite in boxing, as a pro fighter’s punch can inflict serious damage on a young, inexperienced adversary. World junior featherweight champion Carl Frampton placed it in the proper perspective when he averred that amateur and pro boxing are actually two different sports. The danger is real, but the AIBA is oblivious to it.
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