Boxing was a founding sport of the ancient Olympics in Greece, and has been an Olympic sport since the first edition of the modern Olympic Games in 1904.
The Olympic Games are organized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is in full control of all aspects of competition: formats, rules, and all of the financial and commercial matters of the event, which is the most important event in the world .
The IOC is to run its activity based on the Olympic letter, which should outline the general spirit of Olympic competition. Today the Olympic letter has become secondary, and it is more commercially oriented than ever. The financial impact for host countries is huge, but at the same time has become a heavy burden for some since the day after the Olympic Games’ Closing Ceremony, leaving financial and social trouble like in Greece, and most likely Brazil. The demands for financial and infrastructure compliance are in some cases unmanageable.
The Olympic Games were always regarded as the platform for amateurs to compete and make dreams come true – there are so many magic moments which have touched the hearts of millions and have shaped the spirit of countries. A medal can change the way a country feels inside and outside: a medal is the pride of a whole country.
Things have changed dramatically in recent years. It all started in 1992 in Barcelona with the “Dream Team” basketball team: Jordan, Johnson, Bird and friends captured the attention of the world and ran over every opponent, capturing gold for the United States. No one remembers the humiliation that players from Angola or Lituania received from losing by 68 points or 51 points, respectively. In the end, the Dream Team won gold with an average of 43 points difference. Then came tennis and golf, and most sports now allow professional athletes to compete. Football – or soccer – has the rule of a 23-year age limit and only three pros allowed.
The IOC determines which sports are official for Olympic competition. The IOC then recognizes an international federation for each sport to be in charge of organizing the rules for such sport and the Olympic competition. Each international federation then recognizes national federations of each country, which are in charge of organizing their sport in their country.
Now let’s look into boxing and Olympic glory. The IOC recognises as the international federation the entity named AIBA (Amateur International Boxing Association). AIBA recognises national amateur boxing federations from each country. AIBA is in charge of making rules, the competition format, officiating, and all aspects of boxing having to do with the Olympic games.
AIBA’s history has been tainted by scandals since the late 1980s, and boxing has hit rock bottom with the current administration, which has proven to have a strong commercial and financial thirst which has moved them to change, in very dangerous ways, the way boxing is supposed to be. AIBA uses the power of having the Olympic Games and medals as their vehicle to abuse their power and rule over national federations.
AIBA’s role should be to work with national federations worldwide to make amateur boxing successful: to make boxing programs for the youth and to promote the physical activity of kids through boxing; to promote the good practices of boxing world-wide and to create infrastructure .
AIBA has lost its path. Now AIBA is concentrating on formats to run boxing worldwide in all its forms. They have become promoters, managers and sanctioning organizations. They have eliminated the word “amateur” – they truly believe that amateur boxing no longer exists.
What is amateur boxing? It is boxing with specific rules designed for kids to start in the sport of boxing. Three rounds, headgear, and mechanics for referees to protect the kids. Amateur fighters compete without financial compensation, compete often, and are constantly in tournaments. Their dream is to conquer a medal in the Olympic Games to put their country at the highest level of glory.
What is professional boxing? Fighters step in the ring and are paid for their performance. Four, six, eight, 10 and 12 rounds of competition. No headgear. Events are promoted by independent companies known as promoters. The dram of a professional boxer is to win a world championship belt.
Professional boxing is regulated by boxing commissions: some are national, state or province, depending on the laws of each country. The business side of professional boxing is run exclusively by boxing promoters and the business structure includes revenue from television rights, tickets sales, sponsors, and event sales.
World sanctioning organizations come into play to sanction fights in which their championship is at stake. The WBC is a sanctioning organization, and works with local boxing commissions under their jurisdiction to officially regulate a championship bout organized by an independent boxing promoter.
The Rio Olympic Games have opened the door to very dangerous practices. AIBA determined that professional fighters can compete in the Olympics. They tried to get Manny Pacquiao, Wladimir Klitschko and Amir Khan, and used their names to publicize their new format. It was a complete failure, however, and only three professional fighters competed in Rio: Carmine Tommasone, a 32 year-old Italian fighter with a record of 15-0 with 4 KOs; Hassan N’dam, 32 year-old former champion from Cameroon who had fought versus strong professionals and lost by knockout in Rio (I will not comment on that); and Amnat Ruenroeng, 36 year-old from Thailand, a former flyweight champion whose last pro fight was a knockout loss in the flyweight division, who competed in Rio as a lightweight.
The world boxing community shared their deep concern of this change of having pros compete with amateurs. There were so many questions which had no answers from AIBA – no guidelines, no certainty, and it all was rushed with the ultimate goal of creating commercial interest in their competition. Hundreds of fighters expressed their opinions and how would they themselves would have suffered during their Olympic years had they faced strong, high level pros – Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar de la Hoya, David Haye, Barry McGuigan, Jeff Fenech, and so many others.
Professional fighters do not belong in the Olympic Games. “BOXING IS NOT A GAME, YOU DONT PLAY BOXING.” Basketball players may go home humiliated, but with their physical integrity. An amateur boxer facing a high-level pro could get fatally hurt.
Boxing authorities also came out lashing AIBA’s decisions. The British Boxing Board of Control, The Association of Boxing Commissions in the United States, The California State Athletic Commission, the Mexico Federation of Boxing Commissions, and countless more expressed absolutely opposed allowing professionals in the Olympics. The WBC imposed a two-year ban to any pro participating in Rio, and the IBF imposed a one-year ban, as well .
Another decision which caused tremendous concern was the removal of the head gear. It was pointed out that it would be very unsafe to the boxers and very complex and unfair for those winning a fight, but getting cut. The boxing community called it, and it happened .
The Rio Olympic Games are done, and boxing came out with good results. Unfortunately, bad officiating and scandals tainted our sport and several injustices happened, but thank God there were no tragedies.
Boxing is a great sport, and boxing will move on. AIBA is down for the count. The world of boxing is united, and boxing deserves better. The IOC will certainly look into this grave situation and make the necessary adjustments in order to prevent high-risk changes, abuse of power and discrimination, and promote justice and fair play.
If AIBA chooses to continue its quest to rule boxing worldwide with anarchy and chaos, then they must be ready to comply with the laws of the countries in which they act. In fact, AIBA must be in order with the Muhammad Ali Act in the United States, must promote its events under the state boxing commissions which, under the law, are the entities solely responsible to administer professional boxing in the United States. And just like the United States, other countries have laws, and it is time to address AIBA as such.
AIBA will be facing their natural competitors, which are the boxing promoters of the world such as Top Rank, Golden Boy, DiBella Entertainment, Sauerland Event, Matchroom Sport, and many more, and let’s see how things are once a level playing field is established, because today AIBA runs wild with the countries’ boxing budgets and abuse the IOC’s exclusivity to control the medals at the Olympic Games.