AIBA to allow pro’s in the 2016 Olympic games, Fair or Foul?
By: Matthew Becher
Last month a vote took place with AIBA (Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur or International Boxing Association) in which 84 out of its 88 federations agreed to allow professional boxers to participate in the upcoming summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This will be the first time that professional boxers will be allowed to compete in a, regularly, amateur event and against other amateur participants. This brings up many questions of why this has been changed so close to the actual events and why a mixing of pro’s and novices would be thought to be Okay to do.
The reasoning for AIBA to allow professional athletes and amateurs to compete with one another is to “increase the amount of competitive boxers”, having amateurs step up their competition can only make them better. What then happens to amateur boxing? Under this new model, the true amateur boxer, who has gone through years of tournaments and trials just to make it to the Olympics will be able to retain their amateur status, but why would they? If you are already going to end up fighting grown men and paid prize fighters in the biggest stage that an amateur can achieve, why not just become a pro as early as possible, get paid yourself. An amateur trying to make an Olympic team goes through a very intense and grueling process to just qualify for an Olympic games. It only comes around every four years, and within those four years, you are traveling, training and for most of these youngsters, still going to school. If you could sign with a promoter, make money fighting and still be able to be able to fight in an “amateur” styled tournament, why stay in a dorm room with other amateurs?
What happens to the great amateur programs of the world, namely the Cubans and Russians? We see so many great professional Cuban and Ex-Soviet country fighters right now, and the main reason why they are so dominant is because they are from Socialist countries, that have extremely disciplined amateur programs. They are paid, not always handsomely, and are only allowed to fight in amateur style tournaments. This, in most people’s opinions, engrains the trades of the sport into them so well, they become second nature. If a fighters has 300+ amateur fights, then they know when to jab and when to duck. It becomes like breathing, it is instilled. They biggest highlight for these men, especially the Cubans, who are technically never allowed to turn pro (unless they defect from their native country) is winning an Olympic Gold, some even do it multiple times. If pro fighters can just get in there with the amateurs, what would happen to these dominant boxing countries?
Safety also has to be an issue. This year, AIBA has also decided to go back to the days of no head gear. This is an issue all in itself, and does seem to have some great benefits, but does it when we start putting 18yr old kids in the ring with say 30+ year old men, some who are current or former world champions. Watching fighters like Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, or Artur Beterbiev knockout other professionals in 1 round is one thing, but how does that play out when they put that kind of power on a novice? Many amateurs seem to have no problem with this happening, but we suspect that as bravado. You cannot expect an amateur, who may have sparred with pros in the past, to be able to take that type of power. Sparring with headgear is one thing, a real fight is completely different.
What does AIBA look to get out of this? Is it higher ratings, since Boxing may be on the docket to drop as an Olympic sport in the future? Do they want bigger Knockouts? Most amateur fights go to decisions and work on a point system, does getting rid of Headgear and adding professionals increase viewership and knockdowns? Do they want Stars now, instead of building them up like it used to with Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali, Oscar De la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Vasyl Lomachenko, George Foreman, Guillermo Rigondeaux, and the list can go on and on.
Some boxers have showed interest in actually participating in this. Manny Pacquiao has said he would see how it would balance with his new Senatorial duties. Amir Khan has shown interest in participating for his parent’s homeland of Pakistan. Light Heavyweight contender Artur Beterbiev looks to be making his way to Rio. Other boxers have spoken out about it, speaking about its safety issues. The World Boxing Council has even put out a warning, that any professional boxers who do decide to participate in the Olympics will be banned from their rankings for two years. It is a debate that is going on right now, and both sides are making good points to their arguments. Should professionals be allowed to compete in the Olympics, they do in Golf, Basketball, Tennis, Hockey….but those guys aren’t getting punched by fully developed, trained, fighters.