THE word robbery is used with ever increasing frequency. Especially so in amateur boxing. Afterall in a major tournament made of up of hundreds of bouts, each of just three rounds, contested by two top-level boxers, there are going to close decisions and verdicts open to interpretation.
But sometimes things really do get stolen. There are have been famously bad decisions. Roy Jones in Korea is a prime example and the 2016 Olympics notoriously was littered with outrageous officiating. The pressure is on AIBA, the amateur sport’s governing body, to address these concerns.
A new example of its old problem was on full display at the AIBA men’s World championships in Russia last week. British super-heavyweight Frazer Clarke should have had a place in the semi-finals of the tournament in Ekaterinburg. But it was taken from him, robbing him of at least a bronze medal, in a wholly novel way.
Clarke boxed Russia’s Maksim Babanin in the quarter-final and, after a closely fought bout, was announced a split decision victor. Beating the Russian in Russia was quite a feat in itself and provided the GB boxing team with their fourth guaranteed medal at these championships.
Or at least it should have. It emerged later that night that the Russian team had lodged a protest, which had been accepted and then seen the result of the contest overturned. Babanin was now a split decision winner and Frazer was out of the tournament.
This was outrageous. Quite simply it should not have happened. AIBA had introduced a new system for appeals. There was no means to protest a decision at the last Olympics (though at London 2012 protests had been flying in). At this tournament if a protest was accepted a result could go before a bout review jury to be reassessed.
In Frazer Clarke’s case this appeal jury decided that based on the scoring of the third round the result should have gone the other way and the decision was reversed. But the Russian federation’s protest simply should not have been accepted and the appeal panel should not have been brought in.
There is a subjective element when he comes to judging a contest, especially so when the scoring of amateur boxing changed from a computer-based points system (judges simply totting up the number of landed blows) to a pro-style 10 points must system. That was expressly so “style”, as the former president of AIBA told Boxing News, could be appraised. But regardless of your view of whether Clarke’s or Babanin’s performance ought to have prevailed, the new appeals system was not put in to re-score close bouts. The point of it was not to give teams to the opportunity to try to have close results changed, it was brought in to provide a mechanism to address really bad, Roy Jones-type decisions. In contrast Clarke-Babanin was close, and if the evaluator considered it to be close then it simply, straightforwardly should not have been up for review.
There is no means to ‘counter-appeal’ an appeal but England Boxing, on behalf of Clarke, responded as robustly as they could. As well as asking for the basis of both the protest and the review board’s decision, they asked for the reasons AIBA’s technical delegate accepted the appeal. The technical delegate’s response was inadequate. They said: “Following consultation with the bout review jury I exercised my discretion to accept the protest and to allow it to proceed to a review of the bout. The rules do not oblige me to provide further explanation of the basis upon which I exercised my discretion and I choose not to do so. Under the rules I am not required to provide you with the scores of the evaluator that you seek and I choose not to do so.”
Which begs the obvious question: if the evaluator’s record supported AIBA’s conclusion, why choose to withhold it?
GB Boxing is normally a diplomatic body but even their spokesperson declared this “a cruel blow and an outcome that has left the whole team dismayed and bitterly disappointed. It is critical that the sport operates with complete openness, transparency and clarity and upholds the highest standards of governance. We are therefore very disappointed that our request for information relating to the decision-making process in this instance has been refused.”
It is indeed critical. These kind of issues with AIBA’s officiating, as well its governance and financing, ultimately led the International Olympic Committee to suspend AIBA from administering the boxing tournament at Tokyo 2020 and the qualification events. But there’s no indication the IOC wants that situation to carry on indefinitely. If AIBA is to return after its suspension then it must reform, and be seen to reform. Otherwise the sport’s Olympic future will, once again, come under serious threat and boxing once again would face an unnecessary disaster.