According to ESPN.com news services (in conjunction with the Associated Press), the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) has lifted the three-month suspension leveled against USA Boxing for remarks made by former president Hal Adonis.
The above-cited article states that Adonis, who made comments to The New Yorker magazine suggesting a link between "childhood abuse and successful boxers," has been removed as chairman of USA Boxing, though the governing body’s board of directors "still voted to retain Adonis as a board member."
Still, the news of the AIBA lifting USA Boxing’s suspension has to be greeted with some relief, even if the three-month ban would hardly have been a deathblow to the organization, given that it would not have coincided with the next World Amateur Championships or Olympics.
Though Adonis’ two-year ban from all AIBA-sanctioned events is still in effect, USA Boxing expressed its gratitude for the AIBA’s decision through its president, Dr. Charles Butler:
We are extremely grateful to AIBA for their willingness to lift the suspension and allow our athletes to participate in all boxing events so quickly. The athletes across the country were the biggest victims of this suspension, and we wanted to ensure that the mistakes of the organization's past leadership have as little impact on them as possible. (AIBA president) Dr. Wu agreed with us, lifted the suspension and expressed strong support to protect our athletes and the membership of USA Boxing.
It is somewhat easy to forget about amateur boxing between the World Championships and Olympic Games, especially considering that the 2012 U.S. men’s boxing team was shut out of the medals in London for the first time since 1980 when they boycotted the Moscow Games due to the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan.
The 2012 London Olympics were somewhat of a tipping point for a country that has historically been one of the dominant nations in amateur boxing. While the news of USA Boxing no longer being suspended is positive, it is also a reminder that the amateur program is at an impasse.
The U.S. has not produced a truly outstanding boxing team since 1988 when they captured eight medals. That squad featured the likes of Riddick Bowe, Kennedy McKinney, Ray Mercer and, of course, Roy Jones Jr.
In a somewhat ironic twist, the rule changes precipitated by Jones’ disgusting loss to South Korean fighter Park Si-Hun in the light-middleweight final, which famously included the implementation of electronic scoring, have created a disconnect between professional and amateur boxing that has coincided with increased parity at the international level.
While Cuba and the Soviet Union had challenged the U.S. before the fateful ’88 Games in Seoul, recent Olympiads have also seen strong performances from Ukraine, Great Britain, Kazakhstan, Ireland, Italy and China (amongst others).
While it is unrealistic for the U.S. to expect medal hauls similar to 1976 or 1984, it would be beneficial for boxing in general if the Americans were more competitive in subsequent Olympiads. One does not have to be an American (I’m not) to realize that a strong amateur system serving as a breeding ground for professional prizefighters can help energize boxing in the world’s largest sports market.
Obviously, being an Olympic medalist—or an Olympian in general—does not guarantee professional success (see Ricardo Williams Jr., for instance). The fact remains, however, that Americans emerging from the Olympics have a leg-up on fellow prospects in terms of recognition and quickly advancing their careers.
The list of American Olympians who went on to attain championship success in the paid ranks is a long and impressive one. Also, when considering the ability to transcend boxing, the Olympic experience helped propel the likes of Muhammad Ali, Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya to crossover stardom.
Of course, a boxer does not need the Olympic experience to become a transcendent professional prizefighter (Mike Tyson quickly comes to mind). However, the fact remains that being a high-profile Olympian provides unique opportunities for professional promotion, while also offering a recognizable credential to the casual sports fan.
Despite being shut out of the medals (for men) in 2012, there are reasons for American amateur boxing fans to be optimistic heading into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. An ESPN.com report (via the Associated Press) confirmed that the AIBA is shifting to the 10-point scoring system used in professional boxing, which means that instead of just counting landed punches, fighters will be given credit for actually winning rounds and displaying a variety of skills.
Other changes, as reported on BoxingScene.com, include removing headgear for elite men’s tournaments and allowing professional fighters campaigning under the AIBA’s APB promotional banner to retain their Olympic eligibility. Americans trained in a professional style should benefit from these changes, and it is reasonable to expect the U.S. squad to be more competitive in 2016.
Whether the U.S. amateur system needs an overhaul, or whether American expectations need to be curbed as other nations continue to develop elite boxing talent, a three-month suspension would clearly have done nothing to benefit USA Boxing’s quest for redemption.
Part of that quest will begin on the undercard of 2008 Olympian Gary Russell Jr.’s November 9 ring return, when five members of the 2012 squad—Dominic Breazeale, Marcus Browne, Terrell Gausha, Errol Spence and Rau’shee Warren—will make their professional debuts after lengthy and successful amateur careers.
What USA Boxing does between now and 2016 could do much to impact the sport’s paid and unpaid ranks. Boxing has become a somewhat easy target for cheap jabs and low blows that tirelessly describe its supposed demise. But this is lazy and already tiresome. Boxing is not dead, and if Americans want to help the sport grow, showing a renewed interest in a rebuilding amateur system would be a positive step.