Rio 2016: IOC should suspend boxing from Olympics if AIBA cannot ensure a fixing-free sport
Michael Conlan's protest after being adjudged to have lost brings to mind Sarita Devi's tearful refusal to accept her bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games after she was 'robbed' in the semi-final.
You just can't keep the International Boxing Association (AIBA) out of a fixing controversy at world sporting events. The latest fiasco involves Irish bantamweight Michael Conlan, who lost his quarter-final bout against Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin in a dubious decision, to say the least. As is becoming the norm at AIBA events, the crowd booed the result, sending a clear signal as to who they thought actually won the fight.
Conlan didn't go quietly either. He gave the judges the middle finger, then went on Irish television and added a few choice words for AIBA. "They're cheats, it's as simple as that," Conlan said. "I'll never box for anybody again. They're cheating they're paying everybody."
He added the cherry on the cake by taking to Twitter to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin "How much did they charge you bro??" and signed off with a kissing emoji for good measure.
Hey Vlad @PutinRF_Eng
— Michael Conlan (@mickconlan11) August 16, 2016
Conlan's reaction brings to mind Sarita Devi's tearful refusal to accept her bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games after she was "robbed" in the semi-final.
These decisions have heart-breaking consequences for athletes who have sacrificed a normal life for a shot at sporting glory on the assumption that merit is all that matters. Sometimes those emotions bubble over, as it did with Sarita and now Conlan. The wonder is it doesn't happen more often. Perhaps if it did, crooked officials would think twice before violating the very principles they are tasked with upholding.
It also wasn't just the Conlan fight that was suspect. As Yahoo's Kevin Iole reports, "Tuesday's morning session was filled with bad calls — American Gary Antuanne Russell was eliminated in the light welterweight quarterfinal, even though Uzbekistan's Fazliddin Gaibnararov spent most of the last two rounds doing little other than running — but the Conlan-Nikitin fight may have topped them all. On Monday, Russian heavyweight Evgeny Tishchenko won the gold medal in a horrid decision over Vassiliy Levit of Kazakhstan."
All of which led the US head coach Billy Walsh to make this comment to The Guardian: "We all wonder why we are out here working our socks off trying to get our guys ready. They give us the rules and we try to get our guys to adhere to those rules and then fight in that fashion and then we do and we don't get it," said Walsh. "It's the worst games since 1988 when Roy Jones got robbed in the final."
What makes a bad situation worse is the fact that these results aren't surprising. Two weeks before the Games began, The Guardian reported: "Horrified senior officials within the sport believe a cabal of officials are able to use their power to manipulate the draw and the judging system to ensure certain boxers will win. One senior figure said there was no doubt some of the judges and referees in Rio will be corrupted. He alleged a group of referees get together before major championships to decide how to score certain bouts."
AIBA, the world governing body for amateur boxing, has said that it is innocent and is committed to ensuring "fair and transparent competitions". But the weight of circumstantial evidence has grown to the point where it would topple an elephant. There have been too many funny fights and far too many allegations of corruption for it to be just coincidence.
The situation has echoes of the match-fixing controversy in cricket, where governing bodies denied it was happening even though stories and rumours had circulated for years. It's much harder to spot a fix in cricket, of course. But what AIBA is asking fans to do is take them at face value, rather than trusting what they see with their own eyes.
But AIBA doesn't deserve to be taken at their word. There is too much smoke for there to be no fire. What it deserves is to be independently investigated in the manner that Fifa or the BCCI have been investigated.
Unfortunately, unless evidence of criminality is uncovered, like it was in Fifa's case, just who would conduct that investigation is uncertain. AIBA certainly isn't going to do it. When the BBC alleged a cash-for-medals deal was made between AIBA and Azerbaijan in September 2011 ahead of the 2012 London Games, AIBA admitted to taking the money but denied there was a deal to fix fights.
Yet, at the Games, Japan's Satoshi Shimizu knocked down Azerbaijan's Magomed Abdulhamidov six times in the final round of their bantamweight bout, but the judges still gave the bout to the Azerbaijan boxer. That decision was so outrageous that it was overturned, but it doesn't take a genius to add money to result and get fixing.
If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had any b***s and wanted to live up to the ideals of sportsmanship it loudly and regularly touts to the world, it would suspend boxing from the Olympics until the mess is cleaned up. But that's as likely to happen as AIBA admitting to the fixing in the first place.
The sad truth is that fixing is as much a part of sport as doping. And there will be many more Conlans and Sarita Devis to come in the future.
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