Mauricio Sulaiman column: Officiating in the sport
This week´s column will adress the always controversial topic of officiating. Officials on all sports will always be subject to criticism, did the umpire miss the call, (was it a strike or a ball?), did the referee missed calling the offside which lead to a goal in soccer?, did the referee call the wrong pass interference in football?, was that dive a 9.0 or should it have been 9.5 ……. No matter what the sport is , officials are under heavy pressure and scrutiny and it is always forgotten that they are human beings.
Boxing has 2 distinctions of ring officials, the referee and 3 judges, but it was not always like that, there have been many different scoring systems in the history of our sport. For many years the referee was the sole arbiter, if the fight ended without ko, the referee would raise the arm of the fighter he thought won the fight . There were 20 point system, 5 point system,1 point per round system ( regardless of knockdowns , the winner would get only 1 point ) ,for many years there was a scoring referee and 2 judges , etc….. After a long process and meetings with the best officials in the world , the WBC developed the current 10 point must system which has been in use for some 40 years . There are several proposals to make some additions and changes to the current system , but that is a matter for another day to discuss .
There were also, throughout the years , different customs and practices regarding the appointment of ring officials for championship fights . It was common to see the champion travel to defend his title and bring with him one judge and a scoring referee . Then it was finally stablished that the referee needed to fully concentrate in the actions and safety of the fighters , so the scoring referee was abolished and 3 judges would officiate .
The WBC stablished a policy in it´s rules and regulations which calls for the appointment of “neutral officials” , this meaning they must be from neutral countries from both fighters. So in theory, having all neutral officials, 3 judges seating in different sides of the ring and with a scoring system which seems to be the fairest , results should mostly be accepted , however it is common to see “controversy” in many fights and fans and media continuously refer as officials as corrupt , incompetent and so many other adjetives ….
I am certain that most officials in boxing are honorable, decent persons who dedicate with passion to serve the sport. There are often problems in the process of selection and appointments of the officials, and many fights end up with a non neutral panel . Boxing is one of the few which is subjective by nature, it is appreciation as there are no points or goals which draw up the score , it is purely what the official saw and scored . There are guidelines and a tremendous work to try to get officials to have uniformity through training and certification programs.
We have identified certain factors which need to be analyzed to understand the difference between fans ( and even some media ) perception of a fight vs the judge working the fight . In the interest of educating the public we have prepared this chart :
View – focus
The 3 official judges are seating at the edge of the ring on a high chair and their view is one dimensional , the only view they have is the fighters inside the ring, their focus is solely on the actions.
Any other person is seating behind and their view is extended to see many other things besides the actual action in the ring. Tv Viewers are limited to what is shown on the screen with a whole variety of angles . Tv Viewers are also heavily influenced by the commentators .
Officials are fully concentrated in the actions for the full 3 minutes of the round.
Fans could be watching the actions but could easily loose concentration because anything happening around them . There are so many distractions that could happen ( talking to your friend , looking at the beautiful girl , a baby crying a fight in the stands , the popcorn vender and so on….
Officials prepare themselves to work the event. Do not drink alcohol the night before nor the day of the fight , get a good night rest and are ready to get to work by fight time.
Fans usually entertain themselves and attending the fight is a great happening, sometimes enjoy a drink or drinks days before and during the fight, and are exited and hyped to watch the event.
Officials, in most cases, are from a neutral country from the 2 fighters. Officials are completely non-biased and have no favoritism towards either fighter and have no vested interests on the result of the fight.
Fans are, most of the times, favoring one of the fighters, either by nationality, local hero or by popularity.
Officials do not gamble, it is prohibited for any official to bet on a fight. Fans often bet on a fight giving them a vested interest in the result.
Officials follow scoring criteria which basically does not favor an specific style but evaluate the actions in which effectiveness has the most value. ( Landing solid, legal punches regardless of going forward , sideways or backwards).
Fans usually like the active aggressive power puncher going forward known as brawler , regardless if the punches land and if they are legal or illegal blows. Of course there are many fans who enjoy and appreciate classic boxing as well.
Officials score rounds individually solely considering the action of those 3 minutes, turn the scoring card in and then move on to the next round.
Fans usually carry on the actions and accumulation of rounds and get a sense of who is winning without considering the round by round scoring.
Is the current 10 point must system effective ? Yes ; Is the point must system perfect ? No .
The 10 point must system means that each fighter begins the round with 10 points and the winner of the round is awarded 10 points and the loser 9 or less. 96% of the rounds are scored 10-9 . Some boxing jurisdictions are against scoring even rounds ( 10-10 ) , and also are against of scoring 10-8 without a knockdown . And this is where the system fails . This makes the usual controversy arise when there are close rounds and those go to one fighter and the official result has a very wide score while it seemed to be a close fight .
There are some initiatives that the WBC has introduced and some that are in pilot stage. They intend to bring much needed transparency to the scoring of fights, also intend to provide efficiency to the system with tools to maximize its effectiveness . The problem is that change will always be a concern to those who are skeptical and traditional and not willing to understand that there is a need to act.
4 & 8 Rd open scoring – It has worked very well for 8 years in more than 50 countries . Some use the system announcing the officials scores after the 4th and 8th round to the public and some simply accept to provide the scores only to the 2 corners .
The intention is to give the fighters the opportunity to adjust during the fight and not be blind until the end . It also gives transparency to the sport , showing the scores during the fight .
Noise canceling headsets for judges – These devices have been used successfully throughout 2016 in several countries . They maximize the focus and concentration of the judges . They limit the noise which could be a distracting factor in noisy arenas , the comments from surrounding fans, commentators and even cornermen.
Officials review committee and accountability – The WBC reviews each performance in WBC fights , the review committee evaluates and officials are accountable for their performance and actions . Officials are trained , tested and certified.
Boxing is a great sport . We need to take actions that could lead to a better system. There is no other thing more important than the safety of the fighters and that includes justice . Boxers are the soul of the sport and we have the obligation to make the sport better for them . Fans own the sport and it is our obligation to provide the platform that will serve justice and keep boxing moving forward worldwide .