Why Allowing Professional Boxers to Compete in the Olympics Is a Dangerous Idea

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2016

Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis (seen here with Anthony Joshua) thinks allowing pros to compete at the Olympics is dangerous.
Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis (seen here with Anthony Joshua) thinks allowing pros to compete at the Olympics is dangerous.JACK GUEZ/Getty Images

It’s an idea so ridiculous, so bad and so dangerous that it boggles the mind that someone out there was stupid enough to think it up, much less believe it was a good idea.

The Associated Press (h/t ABC News) reported last week that International Boxing Association (AIBA) president Ching-Kuo Wu has fast-tracked a proposal that would allow professional boxers to compete in the Summer Olympics, perhaps as early as this August’s Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“We want the best boxers to come to the Olympic Games,” Wu told the Press Association (per the AP). He also stated that it was “absolutely possible” that the change could go through in time for professionals to lace up this year, though others seem to believe 2020 is more likely.

Let’s not mince words.

Wu should have his head examined if he thinks the potential gains from allowing professional athletes to compete against amateur kids outweigh the dangers. It has precedent, but the cases are so wildly different that it hardly matters.

AIBA president Wu needs his head examined.
AIBA president Wu needs his head examined.FAISAL AL-TAMIMI/Getty Images
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Allowing pros to compete in the Olympics isn’t a new idea.

The 1992 American Dream Team (the first to use NBA players) took the rest of the world to the woodshed at the Barcelona Games, winning the gold and embarrassing every team it played.

Nor are the debates that surface every now and then about the possibility of some elite college basketball/football team being able to compete or beat some woeful professional basketball/football team.

That story popped up a bunch last season when John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats (flush with NBA talent and a consensus No. 1 team for most of the season) sparked questions of whether they could handle the inept Philadelphia 76ers.

Even Calipari rightfully quashed the idea because the experience and maturity gap between pros and amateurs was just too large.

And that’s just basketball.

Sure, the game can get physical, but the objective is to outscore your opponents, and that physicality is incidental to the game. It’s not the entire objective the way it is in boxing or other combat sports.

The IOC has decided to allow male boxers to compete without protective headgear.
The IOC has decided to allow male boxers to compete without protective headgear.DAMIEN MEYER/Getty Images

The idea of matching professional fighters with amateurs has been rightfully criticized as irresponsible and likely dangerous by a bevy of individuals knowledgeable of the sport. Former undisputed heavyweight champion and Hall of Famer Lennox Lewis said as much to BBC Radio (per PA Sport, h/t ESPN.com)

I kind of think it is preposterous, to a certain degree. The amateur system is based for amateurs—this is why we put in the headgear to protect them because they have a lack of experience and they are not that primed as a professional yet.

Now all of a sudden, you get a world champion or somebody in the top 10 as a professional now going against basically an amateur, somebody with a lack of experienceI don't look at that as being fair.

Ponder this hypothetical (but totally plausible) scenario.

Gennady Golovkin has already knocked out 21 (and counting) straight professional opponents, so he decides to increase his international star power by taking a shot at competing for Kazakhstan in the Olympics.

Ditto for Sergey Kovalev, a vicious, calculating stalker of a fighter who holds the light heavyweight title that matters, if not the lineal one. He decides to compete for Russia.

It’s obvious they would bring some star power to the Games and easily slot in as favorites to hoist gold medals, no small deal.

Their first opponents?

Some 18-year-old kids from middle America or southeast Asia with a handful of amateur fights and a far greater chance of walking out hurt than with his hand raised.




Making matters worse, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has allowed a rule change that will permit male fighters to compete this summer in Rio without protective headgear.

Would you want your 18-year-old kid fighting Gennady Golovkin?
Would you want your 18-year-old kid fighting Gennady Golovkin?Al Bello/Getty Images

When you add all these pieces together, you get the real possibility that—even if it’s delayed until 2020 and not this summer—we could see seasoned, mature, professional fighters against young, inexperienced foes without the benefit of even rudimentary safeguards.

WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, whose organization has been in the forefront of attempts to help retired fighters in financial hardship, heavily criticized the pair of moves that could result in pros battling amateurs without headgear.

He predicted that the decision to allow pros would result in “dangerous mismatches between experienced professional fighters and amateur boxers,” per Greg Beacham of the AP (h/t ABC News).

“By matching amateurs against professionals and eliminating headgear, AIBA is showing that it does not seem to care about the physical well-being of the fighters or the correct practice of the sport around the world,” Sulaiman said.

He’s right.

There are levels to this boxing thing, and, even in the pro ranks, nobody wants to see dangerous mismatches that could easily end in tragedy. Making decisions that infinitely increase those risks goes beyond stupid.

Amateurs and professionals have absolutely no business sharing a ring with each other in a combat sport.

It’s ludicrous and dangerous, and nothing good can possibly come out of it.