The Farce That Is Olympic Boxing

And so ends for another four years, the Olympics and with it, Olympic boxing, the whole thing a ridiculous exercise in making huge sums of money at the expense of the world’s finest athletes. Not that there’s anything wrong with making money, but seriously, is that what the event is supposed to be about? Does anyone even remember what being an amateur athlete really means?

There was a time, long ago, when being a professional athlete constituted something to be slightly ashamed of, that the whole idea of making money from one’s athletic talents was viewed as deplorably mercenary and in poor taste. Amateur athletics, performed solely for the sake of seeking excellence, were regarded as a dignified pursuit principally because money or profit were never part of the enterprise. This is clearly not the case with the Olympics which, needless to say, is hopelessly corrupt. But I am getting off topic.

The image that could stand for the entire 2012 Olympic boxing tournament: disgraced referee Meretnyyazov raises the hand of the boxer who was knocked down five times.

The integrity of pro boxing is shaky at best, but Olympic boxing has none. Zero. And it’s been that way for decades. Should any young, promising amateur boxing prospect ever happen to ask me for career advice, one recommendation I would make without any hesitation whatsoever would be to completely forget the Olympics. An ambitious young boxer is much better off honing his or her craft in the gyms, learning, sparring with different fighters, developing a sound support team, and searching for financial backing than pursuing dreams of Olympic glory. The Olympics is really just a crap shoot, a gamble. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive something resembling fair treatment from the officials and conditioning and skill will determine your final standing. But it’s just as likely that even if you are the best boxer in the tournament you’ll get jobbed out of a medal, and then what do you have to show for all your hard work, dedication and trust in Olympic ideals?

Cuba’s Jose Larduet Gomez (left) was one of too many boxers who got stiffed.

And all this is without even discussing the unfolding controversy regarding allegations
that Azerbaijan was promised two gold medals at this year’s Olympics in exchange for a $10 million bribe. These allegations would appear to explain one of the most confounding matches in boxing history, the bantamweight bout between Japan’s Satoshi Shimizu and Magomed Abdulhamidov of, you guessed it, Azerbaijan. Decked five times in the last round, Abdulhamidov could barely stand at the final bell, but the referee refused to acknowledge any of the knockdowns as he openly favoured one boxer over another. Thankfully the powers that be overturned the results and banished referee Meretnyyazov, but this was far from the only such incident.

We all thought Olympic boxing was in deplorable shape back in 1988 when the officials blatantly, shamelessly, robbed Roy Jones Jr. of a gold medal and then turned around and voted him the best boxer in the tournament. That same year referees who attempted to uphold the rules of the sport were actually assaulted by coaches and handlers of defeated boxers. It was so bad there was talk of taking boxing out of the Olympics. But now it’s even worse. No one can understand the scoring, or the actions of the referees, or the various point deductions, and more often than not the wrong boxer wins.

If you’ve been following this year’s tournament, then you know the above statements are more than just shrill pronouncements. If you haven’t, then all you need to do is visit www.badlefthook.com, a site which has offered continual coverage. Scott Christ’s hour-by-hour reportage has been admirably blunt about what a joke this tournament has been. Here are a few choice quotes from some of his recent posts:

Krishan Vikas (India) def. Errol Spence (United States), 13-11: I don’t really have the words for this one. This was a 100%, pure robbery, and everyone knows it, and Vikas knew it, too. … These officials do whatever the hell they want, and if you’re down going into round three, you might as well leave. This was a complete travesty of justice. 

Clemente Russo (Italy) def. Jose Larduet Gomez (Cuba), 12-10: Well, I was numbed. But then it just kept going. And going. And we got to THIS travesty, where the farcical Russo held upwards of 3,000 times in the fight, was never docked for it, and the referee somehow managed to get on Larduet’s case. … After that fight, Karneyeu appeared from out of nowhere and raised Larduet’s hand at ringside. That’s the last we’ll see of two fighters who worked for four years so that they could travel to London, do their best, and get robbed by a system that has lost all credibility. … This has become a farcical “competition.”

Teymur Mammadov (Azerbaijan) def. Siarhei Karneyeu (Belarus), 19-19 – countback: This was as big a travesty as we’ve seen so far. Mammadov, who is rated No. 1 in the world in AIBA’s useless rankings, was awful in round one and awful here. You can expect a protest. … Horrible refereeing and scoring.

I thought they got every single heavyweight fight wrong this afternoon. Every one of them.

This entire session was a mind-numbing waste of time, disgraceful on every level. Unbelievable.

Roy Jones Jr. robbed in ’88: And we thought it couldn’t get any worse.

Those are just a few samples from days and days of coverage. The litany of blatant injustices goes on and on, report after report, post after post. The simple truth is that Olympic boxing has become a huge joke, and the shame of it is no one expects anything better. Would they tolerate this crap in track and field, or taekwondo, or fencing? No, they would not. There would be investigations and inquiries and things would get cleaned up. But it’s boxing, so no one cares, no one expects anything different. People just shrug their shoulders and say, “What do you expect? That’s boxing.”

It’s all just a corrupt and shameful circus, cruelly exploitative and as far removed from the true values of amateur sport and fair play as you can get. Talented athletes are treated like garbage and cheated out of what they rightfully earned and they have to live with that for the rest of their careers. Meanwhile, the boxers who do somehow win medals that they actually deserve have their accomplishments irredeemably tainted by this whole sordid mess. It’s sad to say, but it’s impossible to deny: in Olympic boxing there are no gold, silver or bronze medals; they’re all just clay.            — Robert Portis

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