THERE have been some woeful displays from referees over the years. Whatever the reason for the poor performance (and by this I don’t mean a fleeting mistake or momentary lapse in concentration, I mean flagrant ignorance in regard to their duties) they’re hard to forgive. Whether incompetence or something more sinister, in extreme cases bad refereeing can make the difference between life and death.
The act of winning is a boxer’s primary concern, even when it’s harmful for them to chase victory. When all sense and hope has been knocked out of them, survival mode kicks in. In the vast majority of cases, the beaten-up boxer wants to hear the final bell and will do all they can to ensure that happens. Therefore, if a fighter is physically able, they will keep getting up after being knocked down, keep taking punches when they can no longer defend themselves, ignore cuts and bruises that might scar them for life and say yes or nod to anyone who asks them if they are okay. When in the midst of a contest a boxer believes they can somehow win, or are merely trying to survive the course, they will not – 90 per cent of the time – turn their back and surrender or knowingly signal they want out.
Because of that stubbornness, more accurately described as blind courage, the referee must be acutely aware that boxers need saving from both their opponents and themselves. On Saturday night, Italian referee Giuseppe Quartarone failed in his duty of care. Alex Dilmaghani took a frightful pounding during the final round of his thrilling battle with Spaniard, Samir Ziani. Ahead on two of the three cards going into the last frame, Dilmaghani was exhausted. He had given absolutely everything in his bid to win the European super-featherweight title in a ferocious fight that was fought at close quarters throughout.
Dilmaghani, who had been staggered in the 11th, was twice invited by the referee to get up without a count after hitting both the floor and the ropes due to taking a succession of punches. The British fighter, it appeared, was given chance after chance to survive. The first official knockdown of the round was scored when the challenger collapsed in the corner, his neck horribly tangled in the ropes. He got up. The referee beckoned Dilmaghani to walk towards him. The fighter could not. Yet the fight continued.
Dilmaghani then took a series of blows to the head while reeling backwards. His fall was broken by the ropes as he slipped down to the canvas. Yet those survival instincts dragged him upright. The referee administered the mandatory eight count and took his time to do what he should have done much earlier in the round. The fight was over with nine seconds remaining. Quartarone’s display, live on national television, was horrifying.
The same official – a referee since 2002 – won few plaudits when overseeing Sergio Garcia’s one-sided beating of Ted Cheeseman last year. Nor was anyone particularly impressed with his handling of Anthony Joshua-Joseph Parker in 2018. But neither showing reached the depths of Saturday night. He must be investigated and be made to explain why he ignored two blatant knockdowns in the final round. More than that, he must justify why he didn’t rescue a fighter who could not walk forward when asked to.
Yet it isn’t just the referee who should have acted differently. Dilmaghani’s head coach, Lee Wilkins, did not throw the towel. He made a mistake by not signalling enough was enough when it was abundantly clear his fighter was running on empty. Undoubtedly both Quartarone and Wilkins were aware the round was winding down. Wilkins, in particular, would have known how much victory would have meant to Dilmaghani. But after soaking up that level of punishment in the final session, it would have been at least a 10-7 round, perhaps even 10-6. Any chance of victory was long gone.
Dilmaghani was seen to be worryingly unsteady on his feet several minutes after the finish as he left the ring and was taken to hospital. Thankfully, he’s okay. Now just imagine for a moment that he’s not.