The Lasting Stain of Pros in the Olympics
By: Brandon Bernica
When the International Boxing Association ruled that professional boxers would be eligible to compete in this year’s Olympics, Hassan N’Dam’s dreams of winning gold could not be closer. A former world title challenger in the pro ranks, N’Dam chose to try his hand in Rio despite overwhelming opposition to the decision. Yet on the dawn of the games beginning, N’Dam’s hopes crashed down hard after a loss to Brazil’s Michel Borges kicked him out of the tournament early.
N’Dam’s exit hits home for the people of his native Cameroon. But from a broader perspective, his loss signifies the risks inherent in this new professional Olympian trend. This troubling curveball in the Olympic ranks threatens to jeopardize professional fighters’ careers as they stoop down to disrupt amateur boxing in the process.
The Olympics have long been the pinnacle of amateur boxing. Mystique infiltrates the event as young fighters from across the globe fight for the last time before they enter the murky waters of professional boxing. Instead of fighting for a new contract or a high-grade endorsement, these boxers fight for no more than their nation’s honor. Having fighters tainted by the pro game enter this fray runs the risk of devaluing gold medals into nothing more than trophies on a mantelpiece. Gold medals should be symbols of national victory, not tokens of individualistic success.
Of course, the danger most critics note about professional boxers entering the Olympics is the potential of harmful mismatches. Yes, N’Dam lost to an amateur, but imagine if the characters in this story were different. What if power-punching Gennady Golovkin entered and faced some overpowered 17-year old kid? The potential for career-altering injury would be much higher in an already scary sport. Young fighters grow and make mistakes in the amateurs without the fear of long, punishing rounds. Adding strong pros and fighting without headgear make the Olympics a hotbed for waiting disaster.
Yet for pros, forgoing their careers in search of Olympic glory doesn’t come without a price. Let’s take N’Dam as an example. Due to a new regulation by the WBC, N’Dam cannot fight for their belt for two years because he fought in the Olympics, even if he rises in their rankings. This decreases the chances that N’Dam lands lucrative, momentous fights in the coming years. In the future, expect more boxing organizations to take stands against this trend in hopes of preserving the quality of the amateur and professional sides. Most of boxing stringently opposes the new Olympics rules, so N’Dam may face ridicule and bias against him for his decision. In a sport where bias plays a massive role, this hurts.
Boxing needs to be tough on these professionals who choose to enter an amateur competition. Yes, I get it, there is a lot of positives in being an Olympian. But those positives don’t outweigh the negatives. Year after year, we watch as bad judging persists, promoters continue to run shady operations, and fighter safety remains dead as a topic of conversation. We can’t sit idly by and watch boxing’s own notorious reputation become its reality. The official Olympic committee needs to oversee its boxing section with more care. Fighters need to be suspended and educated for entertaining this risky business. It’s a slippery slope that, if not regulated, could drive boxing’s credibility deeper and deeper into the ground.
In no other sport do professionals fight amateurs. Period. Clear distinctions are drawn between the two ranks for obvious reasons. Yet because of short-sighted motives, these lines in the sand are more blurred than ever. Both professional and amateur boxing involve vastly different incentives, rules, and talent-levels. N’Dam’s loss showcases boxing’s parity at the expense of a trend that could eventually turn lethal. Everyone involves deserves better than for gold medals to be awarded because professionals find it convenient to take advantage of comically awful rules.