Surprise, surprise: We have another Olympic boxing controversy on our hands.
Pardon me, make that controversies.
Questionable officiating in two of Sunday's men's quarterfinal heavyweight matches led to formal appeals, one on behalf of Belorussian fighter Siarhei Karneyeu and a second on behalf of Cuba's Juan Larduet.
Both were denied by the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA), but that hasn't quelled dissent.
Karneyeu's decision, in particular, has drawn the ire of many, most notably NBC Olympic boxing color commentator Teddy Atlas, who exclaimed on air during the Karneyeu bout, "Great system. Great job, guys. You're destroying the sport. You're making it a joke."
And he’s right. Olympic boxing has become an utter calamity.
Earlier this week, blatant impropriety in a bantamweight bout led to an overturned decision and the dismissal of the match referee. American welterweight Errol Spence (awesome name alert!) was similarly victimized in his loss to India’s Krishan Vikas, a decision that was later reversed on appeal.
Atlas has been ringside for the whole charade, becoming a sort of maniacal, vigilante mouthpiece for the sport’s disaffected fanbase.
But really, what’s the use?
Atlas can rant all he wants; it won’t change the fact that boxing has become both a sideshow discipline and a detriment to the greater Olympic movement.
The time has come to eliminate boxing from the Olympic program.
But before we tackle that bear, let’s start with a disclaimer:
I'm not a boxing fan.
I don't have any special antipathy for the sport; it's just not my thing. I'll catch the occasional Friday night fight, but little else.
That said, I am a fan of the Olympic Games. And as a fan of the Olympic Games watching the Olympic boxing tournament, this is what I see.
I see an arcane scoring system that alienates casual fans and rewards defensive posturing.
I see a sport so swollen with corruption—or at least the specter of past corruption—that even the most innocent-seeming coincidences are attributed to conspiracy.
Take, for example, the fact that Azerbaijani fighters benefited from two of the week's most notably bogus decisions.
Most sports would take that as a sign of providence, but not boxing.
I give you the actual caption that ran below NBC's recap of the second questionable fight involving an Azerbaijani fighter:
NBC boxing expert Teddy Atlas rants after Azerbaijan heavyweight Teymur Mammadov's stunning win over Belarus' Siarhei Karneyeu, the second time in London an Azerbaijan boxer has benefited from controversial officiating.
In the video, Atlas wonders aloud, "They take care of these fighters from Azerbaijan, don't they?"
The caption and the comment essentially infer collusion—to various degrees, but you can sense the same sentiment in both.There is a stench of mistrust that permeates the discipline and ruins its appeal for the casual fan (most of whom come to the Games for stories of uplift).
But above all that, I see a sport that has become incompatible with the Olympic movement.
In an era where the Olympics want sorely to repair its drug-addled image, boxing remains obstinately corrupt.
In an era where the Olympics want to highlight the best professionals in every discipline, boxing remains obstinately amateur.
(There will be some form of professionalism in Rio 2016, but it’s more a token gesture than anything).
In an era where the Olympics want to use its platform to promote disciplines and widen their appeal, it has had the exact opposite effect on boxing. Far as I know, boxing is the only sport that is significantly less popular at the Olympics than it is in the sporting world beyond.
Perhaps you could make that argument for soccer, but at least soccer is one of the five or so most popular Olympic disciplines regardless.
Not boxing. I’d rank it somewhere between water polo and cycling. And that might be a generous appraisal.
All that considered, one has to ask the questions: What does boxing get out of the Olympics and what do the Olympics get out of boxing?
The answer is nothing, and it runs both ways.
Now I understand the counter-arguments for boxing as an Olympic sport. Not only is it one of the traditional disciplines—extending back to ancient times—but it’s practiced in almost every corner of the world.
It’s truly a global game, and the Olympics claim to be a representation of global sport.
But if representation of global sport were one of the IOC’s priorities, we’d still have baseball in the program (not to mention long-ignored disciplines like squash and billiards).*
Truth is, the Olympics aren't calibrated to showcase the most popular or widely practiced athletic competitions. The competition is designed to showcase the sports that best fit its competitive ideals.
Boxing, very simply, does not.
It’s time to cut the gloves and move on.
* There's a wonderful bit on this issue in The Complete Book of the Olympics: 2012 Edition by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky. Wallechinsky and Loucky mention a number of sports—including billiards and squash—that should be added according to the IOC's popularity clause and a number of others that deserve relegation.
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