Stop the outrage! Olympic ‘change’ is nothing new

There have been a lot of opinions and views shared today following the AIBA’s decision to essentially expand Olympic eligibility to all boxers, ‘amateur’ or ‘pro.’

Some of this has been very measured, reasoned, and well-researched. However a frightfully large portion of responses have been reactionary, misinformed, and full of faux-hysteria.

Whether you agree, disagree, or believe very little will change following today’s vote, it is a good idea to understand what has actually taken place.

So before you grab your pitchforks, have a read of our attempt to check the facts, dispel the myths, and cut through all the outrage.

Myth: Today’s vote signals a massive change by allowing pros to box in the Olympics for the first time.
Fact: Certain pros have been eligible since the London Olympics. For 2012, pros with less than 15 fights were allowed attempt to qualify for the Olympics through the World Series of Boxing. For the Rio Olympics, this threshold was increased to 20 bouts. Today’s vote green-lighted the removal of this 20-bout limit.

Myth: Top level pros will fight at Rio.
Truth: – Any pro fighter who wishes to fight in Brazil must first be supported by his national federation (unlikely in many countries due to state-funded nature of Olympic sports) and compete in a weight in which they have not yet qualified a fighter.
– They must then qualify for the Games via the 3×3 minute rounds tournament in Venezuela this July where they must finish in the Top 3.
– Aside from the structural barriers, there are also a number of factors which would dissuade top pros from aiming for Rio such as: already having fights scheduled, lack of financial incentives, negativity from fans and rivals, and the potential to lose to ‘lesser’ fighters.

Myth: Pro boxers will ‘hurt’ their lesser ‘amateur’ foes
Truth: The vignette of Golovkin or Kovalev seriously harming some skinny unnamed 18 year old from Equatorial Guinea has been put forward by many, but this couldn’t be further than the truth.
– In these Olympics more than any before them, the stricter qualifying criteria has been more meritocratic than ever, ensuring it is only the top fighters who make it to Brazil
– In a brilliant piece today in Boxing Monthly by Marcus Bellinger, the array of factors which would give ‘amateurs’ an advantage over their professional counterparts were outlined, including pacing, energy, style, and weight-management.
– Obviously boxing is a sport where harm can be sustained, but in all honesty, is a pro, of any ability, facing a top-level Olympic-qualified fighter more dangerous than one of the frequently seen mismatches on pro shows – and that’s not even mentioning the differences between the two codes in terms of glove size and what it takes to have a fight stopped.

Irish-Boxing.com’s view: While the above may seem like we are supportive of the AIBA’s intentions, we can clarify that we are certainly not. We feel that the barriers between both codes of boxing should be rigid and well-maintained. While there will be no discernible change in Rio, Tokyo 2020 may be a different story, although we would doubt it considering the lukewarm reception of professional boxers and national federations over the last 5 years.

The reason we are, and always have been, against the continued extension of eligibility is due to its dilution of amateur boxing. Today’s vote – in tandem with the WSB & APB (formats which we are huge fans of otherwise) – further shows the AIBA’s intention to attempt to rival the professional boxing governing bodies rather than being content with their position as a respected, separate, code of the same sport.

Today’s vote is merely the final blow in breaking down the battered wall between the two codes, and all we can do is just hope that the number of pros who wish to return is minimal.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie