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Bradley Skeete is the only person being punished by a referee’s mistake

Bradley Skeete
Queensberry
The Boxing News verdict on the foul Bradley Skeete suffered, referee Steve Gray's failure to disqualify Hamzah Sheeraz and the British Boxing Board of Control's ruling

BRADLEY SKEETE was thumped three times in quick succession while on the canvas during the eighth round of his bout with Hamzah Sheeraz on December 5. Skeete, a heavy underdog who was winning prior to being dropped, did not recover. He was stopped in the ninth.

On Monday December 13, the British Boxing Board of Control ruled that the result will stand, and referee Steve Gray will face no punishment for allowing the contest to continue. They added they will support the WBO, who sanctioned this as a European title fight, in the ordering of a rematch. Within moments of the Board announcing its decision, there was an outcry among fans and industry members, including Skeete himself.

For the record, Gray – who began his officiating career in 2004 – is an excellent referee and judge who does not make mistakes often.
However, Gray also came under fire in June when he appeared to reject the towel thrown by Lewis Ritson’s corner after he was dropped in the 10th round of his loss to Jeremias Nicolas Ponce. After the failed surrender, Ritson was floored on two further occasions before Gray intervened.
Though his actions were widely criticised, Gray acted within the rules when he decided not to accept the towel. It is not clear if the same can be said of his decision to deduct one point from Sheeraz before allowing the fight to continue when he was satisfied Skeete was in a condition to do so.

The crux of the Board’s controversial ruling would seem to lie in Gray’s interpretation of the regulations at the time of the incident; specifically, whether Skeete was deemed ‘injured’ after the illegal blows landed and if Sheeraz’s actions were ruled ‘intentional’ or ‘accidental’.

The Boxer’s Handbook, an official Board Official document that is given to all boxers with a professional licence, states: ‘If an intentional foul causes an injury, and the bout is allowed to continue, the referee shall notify the authorities and deduct two points from the boxer who caused the foul. Point deductions for intentional fouls that do not cause injury will be at the discretion of the referee.’

It goes on, ‘If the contest continues and at a later round it needs to be stopped because of the same injury, the rules in relation to accidental fouls apply.’ For a 10-round contest, and with the bout ending early in the ninth, the rules for an accidental foul state the result would be determined by the judges’ scorecards at that point.

In this scenario, if Gray believed that Sheeraz’s blows to a downed Skeete were intentional and described Skeete’s condition as an ‘injury’, he did not follow the rules: It should have gone to the cards and Sheeraz should have lost two points instead of just one. Furthermore, if he ruled that Skeete could not continue, Sheeraz should have been disqualified straight away.

However, it would appear that Gray, after determining that Skeete could continue, did not deem the blows caused an injury. The solitary point deduction, as opposed to the two that are mandated after an ‘injury’, would also indicate Gray did not feel that one had occurred.

According to the Board’s Robert Smith, talking to Boxing News the morning after the “lengthy” hearing, said: “Steve had three choices at the time of the incident. One, disqualify Sheeraz immediately. Two, allow the fight to continue after being satisfied that Skeete could continue. Or, three, disqualify Sheeraz if he felt Skeete was not in a state to continue.”

Smith admitted that referees will try and keep a contest going if they can. That would seem a troubling admission in a sport where the combatant’s health must always be the priority. It is something Smith promises will be discussed at the next referee’s seminar in January.

“Steve Gray acted within the rules,” Smith said. “He gave him an opportunity to recover, spoke to him and Brad said he was alright. Whether we all agree that he was alright is a different matter; what we had to ascertain was whether we believed that Steve was acting within the rules at the time. We were satisfied he did.

“If Brad had indicated he could not continue, Steve would have had no option but to disqualify Sheeraz. We watched the video several times, you can see Steve talking to Brad as he gets him to walk across the ring so he could monitor his condition.”

Smith went on to explain that “there is no provision to change the result of the contest – either to a no contest or disqualification – once it is deemed that the referee acted within the rules. Though we may not necessarily agree with the decision he made at the time, we are satisfied he made that decision with the best intentions and with the rules in mind.”

He also stated that the contest was sanctioned by the WBO, so it is down to that organisation to order the rematch, not the Board – unless they decide to put the bout out to purse bids as an eliminator for the British or English title. For clarity, the WBO’s rules regarding fouls are identical to the Board’s.

Regardless, Skeete is left with a loss on his record [see pages 12-13] and the rest of us baffled by what appears to be flagrant injustice. However you interpret the rules as they stand, three illegal blows landed on the head of a defenceless fighter. It can be argued that Sheeraz may have won the contest anyway; Skeete was originally floored from a legal shot. But nobody – not Gray, not Smith, not Sheeraz – can claim that the subsequent volley of unseen punches was accidental or did not discombobulate Skeete.

The point here is not to villainise Gray, Sheeraz or the Board. Mistakes happen in the heat of battle, and decisions made in mere seconds are always likely to differ from conclusions drawn after witnessing numerous replays. Therefore, after examining the footage, which clearly shows Skeete hitting the deck and Sheeraz then repositioning his body to clout Bradley while there, it is disappointing the Board has not done more. If, as Smith alludes, that is because they could not due to their policies regarding the interpretation of rules, then a rethink is surely overdue.

It is of course easy to draw such conclusions from the outside. It is worth remembering the strain that officials and referees are always under. This year, there have been 175 tournaments (the official terminology for a boxing card/bill/event) under the Board’s authority. That was the 53rd contest Gray had refereed in 2021. He has also functioned as a ringside judge on 40 occasions, almost always doubling up his duties at the same event. On the night in question, which was no different to other cards when he has been on duty, Gray refereed two bouts and was a judge in four others. Given the sheer volume of work, and it is fair to ask if such levels are sustainable, it is inevitable that mistakes will occur. It is testament to the quality of officials that such mistakes are rare.

But on this occasion, there should be no question that Gray, and Sheeraz, made clear mistakes and only Skeete is paying the price.

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