Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fair Play: Amateur boxing changes identity

ONE of the big news in sports recently, though it didn’t generate much publicity, are the changes amateur boxing will be adopting this year that will eventually be used for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

One is the dropping of headgear for the men’s competition and the other is scrapping of its computerized scoring system that puts the premium on punches.

When I covered the finals of the boxing competition in the Southeast Asian Games in 2005, when it was Thai and Pinoy fighters who dominated it, things got so heated that cops had to be called in to separate a local radio reporter and a Thai journalist.

Most of the matches were close but the crowd, and some of the local journalists, were really pissed at how the matches were scored, especially in the match that the local boxer lost. In another match that had the crowd throwing coins, water bottles and their half-consumed snacks, the hometown boxer was pummeling the Thai and the points were piling up for the Thai!

I sat near the first row in the crowd and was screaming, “Lantawa, lantawa!” while pointing out to the score box.

What triggered the free-for-all was when in another exchange, no point was given to the Pinoy and when they broke free, a point was added to the Thai.

In amateur fights, there are five judges and for a hit to score, three of the judges have to agree by pressing a button within a second after a punch. I think that part when the Thai got a point away from the action, the judges were a bit late--a few milliseconds late--in deciding it was a punch and when they did, the point was registered while there was no action and the crowd thought their own fighter was being cheated right in his own hometown.

So the coins and unfinished sandwiches and burgers flew to the ring.

Now, Aiba wants to do away with that scoring system and will adapt the 10-point scoring system used in the pros. For every round, judges must give 10 points to who he thinks won that round. It’s 10-9 for a close round, 10-8 if there’s a knockdown, 10-7 for a dominant round.

Will this one eliminate the perceived biases in amateur boxing? Well, I think so, and you can easily spot judges who are either incompetent or who saw a different fight.

In the previous scoring system, you wouldn’t know who scored what and why. This time, judges have to make the right call with their scorecards. And if you have one judge who’d score a round 10-8 for the guy in red, while the rest have it 10-8 for the guy in blue, well, you have yourself a judge who shouldn’t be allowed near the ring.

After Beijing and London, I’ve lost hope of us ever winning an Olympic gold medal in boxing. The odds simply are stacked against us and there were too many stories about crooked refs and judges.

Case in point, the Azerbaijan boxing scandal. A British paper reported in 2011 that Azerbaijan invested $9 million to the World Series of Boxing—a semi-pro event ran by the Aiba—in exchange for two gold medals. A year later in the London Olympics, a bantamweight fighter from Azerbaijan beat Japan despite going down SIX times in the final round. If that’s not dodgy scoring, then Joavan Fernandez is an ideal boy who’s just misunderstood.

There are more stories like this one—Olympic anomalies, not Joavan’s—and the new scoring system has given me hope that we will finally see a Pinoy win that Olympic gold medal.

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