WHILE there were some classic fights and displays of amazing skill and courage in the just-concluded Rio Olympic Games’ boxing tournament, there were instances of terrible judging and serious questions about whether the decision to remove headgear for the male boxers made sense.
One of the most passionate men in boxing, World Boxing Council president Mauricio Sulaiman, who certainly knows whereof he speaks, maintained that the absence of headgear supported his contention that it would result in unnecessary cuts and unfortunate decisions for a couple of fighters, who had to withdraw from their gold-medal bouts precisely because of bad cuts.
The most prominent case was that of Russian bantamweight Vladimir Nikitin, who withdrew from his semifinal clash with Shakur Stevenson of the United States after he suffered several cuts in his hugely controversial victory over Ireland’s Michael Conlan.
By widespread acclaim, Conlan seemingly had won handily only to lose on the scorecards of the judges, who favored the Russian fighter.
Conlan went berserk after his defeat. He lambasted AIBA for being “corrupt” in an expletive-laced outburst, claiming he was robbed of a rightful win and vowing never to compete again in any AIBA-organized tournament since the international organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee had “robbed him of his Olympic dream.”
To many who watched the fight, the decision in favor of the Russian boxer was a travesty, which gave basis to the ire of Conlan, who ranted that the Russians “obviously cannot dope this time and so they are obviously paying the judges a lot more.”
He alleged that “corruption runs deep,” and made it clear he would never fight in any AIBA competition in the future after he lost, 29-28, to the Russian on the scorecards of all three judges and that the Russian was “completely surprised to win” and roared as though he had won the gold medal, which he didn’t, having to pull out with several cuts on his face.
The Irish Times naturally reacted strongly since Conlan was an Irish Olympian. It said Olympic boxing’s governing body, AIBA, has taken further action in the wake of “the judging controversy which has rocked the Rio games.”
AIBA confirmed that its executive director, the Algerian Karim Bouzidi, had been “re-assigned with immediate effect” to a new role in the organization. This followed the expulsion of a number of judges – believed to total six, which included a Sri Lanka judge, who was involved in the Conlan bout– from the games in light of a series of officiating issues, chiefly involving defeats for Kazakhstan heavyweight Vassiliy Levit and Conlan.
One of those officials believed to have been sent home is another Algerian, Kheira Sidi Yakoub, who both refereed the Conlan fight and scored the
heavyweight final in favor of the Russian’s Evgeny Tishchenko.
The British newspaper, Daily Mail, referred to AIBA president Dr. Wu as “the shadowy president of the governing body of world amateur boxing who sounds like a villain in a Bond movie –and his acolytes struggled to control the fall-out from some hotly disputed decisions.”
But Dr. Wu, in a defiant stand, vowed to make Conlan pay for his outburst at the games and says he won’t allow him to get away with those statements.
“(Tishchenko) never said anything. (Levit) never said anything. They all accept (sic) the result. But he (Conlan) immediately showed his finger to the referee-judges. The IOC says this is totally unacceptable. You cannot humiliate people. They are officials. He put himself in a difficult position, I can tell you. A lot of disciplinary action will follow. You should show proper behavior. If you are not happy about the result, you cannot humiliate in public,” Dr. Wu said.
The head of the World Boxing Council called on Monday for amateur boxing to reinstitute head guards after they were absent during the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Sulaiman, taking issue with a decision by the International Boxing Association to remove headgear for male boxers during the Olympics, said the number of facial cuts that occurred in the competition underline his concern.
“Having the headgear removed was a very dangerous and risky decision, and I was proven [correct] that it was a terrible situation, with the number of cuts,” Sulaiman told Lance Pugmire of The Los Angeles Times in a telephone conversation from his Mexico City office.
Nikitin last week withdrew from his Olympic semifinal fight against Shakur Stevenson of the US after sustaining multiple facial cuts in his controversial quarterfinal victory.
Sulaiman said he has gathered photos of other fighters, who were cut in the competition, and he took issue with the implication of an Aug. 6 New York Times article headlined “Making Olympic Boxing Safer by Eliminating Head Guards.”
In the article, opinions that head guards provide fighters a false sense of security while creating a target for punching were presented, along with the results of a study commissioned by the AIBA that found acute brain injuries declined when head guards were not used.
“[AIBA didn’t] report cuts went up [significantly]. Head guards have been a protection [since 1984],” Sulaiman said. “Kids need to fight with headgear.”
Female fighters did. There’s so much inconsistency, everything’s so confusing. They just came out and made decisions without doing the thorough research that merits these decisions.
“With multiple fights in a short period of time [during the Olympics], cuts can cause the fighters to be out of the competition.”
There was immediate reaction to Dr. Wu’s statement on Conlan.
Hugh McBride said the IOC talks of Conlan humiliating the referee and judges, but there was no word of the humiliation that they had laid out on Conlan, who had beaten his opponent so badly that he had to pull out of his next fight.
Besides, why should Conlan be punished for reacting to an obviously ridiculous decision? Conlan out-boxed the Russian clearly and if anybody should be punished it should be the officials.
Indeed, by removing some judges, referees and the executive director, Dr. Wu effectively admitted there was wrong-doing. We do not dare speculate whether it was incompetence, bribery or some other form of corruption but clearly something stinks in AIBA.