Rotten from the core to the top

Ed C. Tolentino

Ed C. Tolentino

This is not a piece about the boy who cried wolf.

This is a piece about the young boxer who had enough of the wolf’s atrocities and decided to give him a taste of his mind, err finger.

After losing a controversial decision to Russian Vladimir Nikitin in the bantamweight quarterfinals of the Olympic boxing competition, Ireland’s Michael Conlan raised his middle fingers at the direction of the judges who he believed conspired to rob him of a clear victory. Conlan, a bronze medalist in the 2012 London Games, openly accused the officials of the Aiba (International Boxing Association, the governing body of amateur boxing) of being corrupt “from the core to the top” and vowed never to fight again for the group. Conlan added that “(amateur) boxing is dead” and that the winner is now being decided by “whoever pays the most money” or yields the most influence.

It is relatively easy to dismiss Conlan’s rants as plain sour grape, but the proliferation of questionable and downright bum decisions in the Rio Games substantiates his claims. Conlan lost despite clearly winning all three rounds and reducing his foe’s face to a bloody pulp. In the heavyweight final, Russian Evgeny Tishchenko defeated Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy Levit via a highly-disputed decision to pocket the gold. Tischenko won despite backpedaling in the entire fight.

Despite noticeable changes this year (i.e., removal of the headgear, adoption of pro boxing’s ‘top-point must system’ scoring) Olympic boxing is still riddled with corruption. The rules may have changed, but the schemes remain the same.

According to the United Kingdom-based The Guardian, some judges had been directed to score bouts in a certain way even before the tournament began. The judges were to be on the lookout for certain hand or head gestures at the end of each round to guide them on which corner to score the fight for. On the major fights, a pre-fight meeting among officials was to take place to ensure that the ‘correct’ winner is picked.

Conlan’s claim that boxers from some countries are being openly favored is actually seconded by team USA coach Billy Walsh. Case in point: It had been reported that Aiba received a loan in the vicinity of $10 million from Azerbaijan to jumpstart its professional boxing league known as the APB (AIBA Professional Boxing). What the Aiba is doing with a pro boxing league when it should be strictly focused on amateur boxing is anybody’s guess. In any event, the APB was launched in 2014 and pro boxers who wanted to earn tickets to Rio were told to sign multi-year contracts with the Aiba’s marketing arm for them to take part in ABP-sponsored tournaments.

For the Rio Games, the ABP sent a total of 20 fighters. Fast-forward to the Games proper: Canada’s gold medal bet in the light welterweight division, Arthur Biyarslanov, lost a disputed decision to German fighter Artem Harutyunyan, an ABP-sponsored fighter. If you still can’t get the drift, dig this: If an ABP-sponsored fighter wins an Olympic gold medal, this becomes his ticket to big purses in the pro ranks. In this scenario, the Aiba stands to realize a return in investment because the boxer is tied to a marketing deal with its marketing arm. This explains the perception of many that ABP-sponsored boxers enjoyed some ‘protection’ from the Aiba.

The scale of corruption almost rivals the length of the Great Wall. Suffice it to say, young amateur boxers spend four-plus years in training and take part in qualifying tournaments in the hope of realizing their dreams of winning an Olympic gold medal. It is unfortunate that these dreams are squashed by the massive corruption in amateur boxing.

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