Olympic Boxing

By John Smallwood, Daily News Columnist POSTED: March 02, 2016 I WAS ALL for concept of "The Dream Team" at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. If the Olympic Games truly were about the best athletes from around the world competing on the biggest stage, then why shouldn't professional athletes in sports such as basketball, hockey, baseball and soccer be eligible to compete? Indeed, over the next two decades and five Olympic cycles, the governing bodies of almost every sport adjusted their rules so that the line between amateur and professional status became obsolete as far as Olympic competition. There was, however, one notable holdout: boxing. Except for the 1912 Stockholm Games - Sweden had banned the sport at the time - boxing has been a part of every Olympics since its introduction to the program in 1904. The Olympic movement in essence created "amateur boxing," as most matches before then were for money - hence the term "prizefighting." With different rules, equipment and rounds, the only thing amateur and professional boxing have in common is the word "boxing." It is a sport in which it makes sense to keep the distinction between professionals and amateurs. However, last week the International Boxing Association (AIBA) discussed a proposal that could make professional boxers eligible to compete in the Olympics as quickly as this summer in Rio de Janeiro. "We want the best boxers to come to the Olympic Games," said AIBA president Ching-Kuo Wu. Typical for boxing, there is an ulterior motive that has little to do with what is right for the actual fighters. AIBA's effort is seen by many as the organization's latest attempt to seize control of every aspect of the sport, from low-level amateur bouts to multimillion-dollar pay-for-view spectaculars. You can believe that the professional side of boxing wants little to do with another player in an already shady business. Wu told reporters that boxing should "think about what the future of the sport will be. It is up to AIBA to set up a good foundation that will last for many decades." Closing the distinction between amateur and professional boxers is not a safe way to do that. Opening the Olympic Games and other traditionally amateur events to the highest-level professional fighters could have tragic medical consequences. AIBA, which dropped the word "amateur" from its name, has already banned fighters from wearing headgear during AIBA-sanctioned events. That move is hotly debated by the medical community in terms of safety for fighters. Amateur boxing is still a sport based on a point-scoring system in which the primary goal is to land clean blows, not to knock your opponent into unconsciousness. Pro boxing scores by points, too, but the power of the blows is scored higher, and stretching your opponent out on the canvas is still the most certain and preferred method of victory. To get support behind allowing world-champion boxers to participate in the Olympics, fights would have to be more than three rounds. More important, the goal of the bout would have to change from outscoring your opponent to knocking him or her out. Knockouts in Olympic fighting are relatively rare, which is likely part of the decline in interest from most fight fans, who want the element of danger. Nobody will want to see Philadelphia welterweight world champion Danny Garcia go for a gold medal by trying to land more love taps than his opponent. The primary motivation for victory would inherently make Olympic boxing more dangerous. Adding in the different level of skill and training between a world-champion-caliber fighter and a true amateur would be a recipe for tragedy. On paper, a gold-medal match between elite pro boxers looks terrific. There are, however, a series of preliminary fights leading up to that. At the 2012 Olympics, it took at least three fights to reach the gold-medal match. Those early fights could present some life-threatening mismatches. What if in an opening-round fight, world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury was pitted against the guy representing Fiji, who happens to have a day job as a plumber? Fury throwing haymakers at a guy who was just happy to get a free trip to Brazil could be potentially lethal. It's not as if Fury can hold back, having to live up to his status. With the exception of Herlander Coimbra, the guy Charles Barkley elbowed in the chest, no player from Angola got hurt when the Dream Team beat it, 116-48. That likely would not be the case if the best fighters on the planet were allowed to participate in the Olympics. [email protected] @SmallTerp

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