Boxing on the ropes, ducking an Olympic knockout at Asian Games
The ancient sport of boxing finds itself on the ropes like never before as the bell sounds to start the Asian Games tournament in Jakarta on Friday.
The noble art was one of six original sports in the ancient Olympics, but it faces the real prospect of being counted out by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and losing its place at Tokyo 2020.
It seems unthinkable that a discipline that had graced every modern Olympics since 1904, producing legends such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Leonard, may disappear from the Games.
But that is a real prospect after multiple judging scandals culminated in disgrace at the 2016 Olympics.
A number of referees and judges were sent home from Rio after several beaten fighters alleged they had been dealt low blows by corrupt judging.
That followed the last Asian Games which were also dogged by controversy throughout, with multiple allegations of “hometown” rigged decisions going to South Korean fighters at Incheon.
The women’s tournament four years ago ended in astonishing scenes as India’s Sarita Devi — who battered her Korean rival in the semi-final but still lost a unanimous decision — refused to accept her bronze medal and tried to hang it around the neck of her victor.
Devi, who dumped the medal on the podium and stormed away in tears, was later banned for a year.
After Rio, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) suspended all 36 referees and judges officiating at Rio — many of whom had also been in Incheon — pending an investigation.
In January 2017 AIBA declared that there had been a lack “proper procedural norms” at Rio and said the suspended officials would be eligible for reinstatement “on a case by case basis” — but crucially not all would get their jobs backs.
The biggest controversy at those games involved Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy Levit, who battered Evgeny Tishchenko in the men’s heavyweight final, only to see the judges award the bout unanimously to the Russian who was jeered as he received the gold.
Tokyo threat remains
Less than a year later, AIBA president CK Wu of Taiwan was ousted from his role after allegations of “financial mismanagement” and widespread corruption surfaced.
However, controversial Uzbek businessman Gafur Rakhimov — who has strongly denied US allegations that he supports organised crime — was appointed as interim president.
That prompted IOC president Thomas Bach to say in February that he was “extremely worried about the governance of AIBA”. The IOC then opened its own investigation into match-fixing at Rio.
And though amateur boxing’s under-fire chiefs handed over a crucial report on internal reforms to the IOC in April, the threat remains.
“This report shows some progress and goodwill but still lacks execution and substance in some areas,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in May.
“Therefore we retain our right to exclude boxing from Tokyo 2020.”
It leaves the sport having to cover up in the corner, with every judging decision at the Asian Games coming under the microscope.
A repeat of the judging controversies from the last Asian Games, and Olympics, is the last thing it needs.