The International Boxing Association’s (AIBA) decision to afford professional boxers the opportunity to compete at the Olympics has ruffled many a feather since its announcement in early June.
Professional boxers such as Tony Bellew and Anthony Joshua have decried the decision, with the latter—a former Olympic gold medallist himself as an amateur—stating he thought the move was both dangerous and unfair to the amateurs working their way up the ranks.
The professional boxing bodies, unsurprisingly, are more perturbed at the rule change. Immediately following the AIBA’s announcement, the World Boxing Council (WBC) warned it would ban any of its champions or top-15 ranked fighters from competing should they opt to box in this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The WBC was the first body to suggest disciplinary action against professional boxers and was quick to strongly condemn the AIBA’s decision, issuing a lengthy statement in the process. "The WBC has expressed its opinion with total opposition towards AIBA's decision to allow professional boxers to fight amateur boxers during the Olympic Games in Rio 2016," a statement on the governing body's website read.
"The WBC has voiced the opinion of the majority in the boxing community from all over the world. There are too many unanswered questions, the competition format and standards are not clear and the risks towards the fighters' safety are tremendous.
"Boxing is one of the founding sports of the Ancient Olympic Games in Greece and modern boxing has been known to be divided into amateur boxing and professional boxing. AIBA is acting with an evident conflict of interest by threatening this structure by being a promoter, manager, regulator and governing entity who wants to have amateur boxers fight professional boxers in a scenario where severe mismatches could result in tragedies.
"To have an amateur boxer vs a professional boxer is like having a marathon runner vs a sprint 100-metre runner, both are runners but they compete in different sports and disciplines. Basketball, tennis, soccer and other sports have ‘pros vs amateurs’ in Olympics, the difference is that in boxing, there are no goals, baskets or points, ‘YOU DONT PLAY BOXING’. Boxing is a combat sport and if the level of opposition is not properly matched it can be very dangerous.
"Professional boxing is structured by levels of competition, four-round fighters, six-round, eight-round, 10-round and eventually championship fights for 12 rounds. One can only hope that AIBA will filter which professionals will participate in Rio.
"The WBC has taken a stance and decided that any WBC champion and top-15 rated in our rankings is forbidden to participate until clear guidelines and safety measures are in place. If they do they will be banned from the WBC for two years.”
Despite some factual accuracies—such as soccer featuring amateurs and professionals playing among each other (they don’t: the countries featured have professional squads of players aged 23 and under with three senior players above the age cap allowed to also compete)—and strange wording, the WBC’s message was clear to deter any would-be interested competitors from briefly defecting for the Olympics which start on August 5th.
While the World Boxing Association (WBA) and the World Boxing Organization (WBO) have remained inconspicuously silent on the matter, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) has followed the trail blazed by the WBC.
The IBF announced on Monday that it will strip IBF titles from any of their champions who opt to compete in the Olympics. The federation also said it will remove any professionals, who make the brief switch to amateur competition for the summer games, from their rankings altogether for a year.
Following the angle of the health and safety concerns incurred by changes made by AIBA, IBF president Daryl Peoples said: “Making this decision was not difficult for us. We felt it was important for the IBF to get involved and take a stance against professional boxers competing against amateurs due to safety concerns, as part of our commitment to this sport is to promote the health and well-being of the boxers.''
With only one qualifying event remaining ahead of the Olympics—hosted in Venezuela in July—it’s unlikely the IBF will be forced to strip any of its champions of their titles. Former Olympians to presently hold IBF titles, such as the aforementioned Joshua, Gennady Golovkin and James DeGale, have shown no signs of willing to revisit their glory days on the amateur scene and have spoken out against the move.
Former IBF junior welterweight champion and Olympic silver medallist Amir Khan had suggested he would like to change allegiances and represent Pakistan in the Olympics as a professional instead of competing for Britain as an amateur as he had in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece—one of the few professionals to speak out in favor of the rule change. But, he has since quietened his stance on this issue.
It would appear that boxing at the 2016 Olympic Games will resume as normal—thanks to a combination of the short timescale and these sanctions proposed by two of the four leading boxing organizations. However, it will be interesting to assess the disparity between the two different boxing disciplines and how things develop ahead of the 2020 games in Tokyo, Japan.
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