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Referees in boxing and the ring’s ‘unwelcome axis of influence’

AIBA's special investigation committee decided that none of the officials suspended after the Rio Olympics can continue to officiate.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigarh |
February 7, 2017 6:28:46 am
 Rio Olympics, AIBA, indian boxing, conlan, conlan-rio olympics, judges, rio olympics controversy, Indian Express World champion Conlan accused the referee of bias after his quarterfinal exit at the Rio Games.

Weeks after the Rio Olympics concluded, boxing’s world governing body AIBA suspended all 36 referees and judges who officiated the bouts following multiple allegations of wrongdoing. Last week, AIBA’s special investigation committee decided that none of the suspended officials can continue to officiate until they are cleared by the association while recommending a slew of changes. Here’s the controversy explained:

What was the controversy at the Rio Olympics?

The Rio Olympics boxing tournament last August was embroiled in controversy surrounding the new ’10-point must’ scoring system. A few boxers alleged that they had been robbed of victory and the results of a number of bouts were questioned. The most famous case involved bantamweight favourite Michael Conlan. The Irishman, a world champion in his category, was beaten in controversial circumstances in the pre-quarterfinals by Russia’s Vladamir Nikitin, a defeat which prompted Conlan to label AIBA “cheats”. Conlan has since turned professional and will make his debut in New York in March.

What was the AIBA investigating?

In September 2016, the AIBA launched an investigation into the quality of refereeing at the Games. The world governing body dropped 36 judges and referees during the competition, after finding that “less than a handful” of the decisions from 239 bouts reviewed were not at the level expected. AIBA’s French executive director Karim Bouzidi was also reassigned to a new role.

What is the outcome of the investigation?

Last week, the AIBA’s special investigation committee conceded that there was a ‘lack of proper procedural norms’ and other problems ‘had a detrimental impact on in-competition best practice’ in Rio. The committee conducted 50 interviews over a period of four months. In a statement, the body’s president CK Wu pinned the blame on AIBA’s five-star judges and slammed the ‘unprofessional relationships’ within AIBA. That, Wu said, ‘created an atmosphere of collusion between senior management and the Five-Star referee and judges.’ Wu called it an ‘unwelcome axis of influence’ which affected the ‘operating efficiency’ during the Olympics.

What are five-star judges?

It’s a group of seven elite officials that were meant to set the standards of professional for all their fellow referees and judges. The structure was introduced in 2012. The referees and judges given this title were able to officiate all boxing matches, including amateur bouts and pro fights. They were also given the power to certify other referee and judges apart from developing manuals and rules.

How did the judges and officials influence the bouts?

A few officials formed a clique and used their power to manipulate the draw and the judging system to ensure certain boxers will win. Before the Olympics, the Guardian quoted a senior official alleging that a group of referees got together before major championships to decide how to score certain bouts. The report added that the corrupt officials initially relied on hand or head signals to manipulate judges at the end of each round to let them know which boxer should be awarded points. After some of these decisions were challenged, they were forced to change their system and started meeting before every major tournament, according to the newspaper.

Does it mean the bouts at Rio Olympics were rigged?

The AIBA has rejected these allegations. They have said the investigation found ‘no evidence that this (collusion between management and referees) had a direct influence on results in Rio.’ But AIBA has now forbidden its staff members from holding roles in the field of play, or the competition area that extends for approximately 20 feet around ring.

Are there any rule changes?

Yes. Among the biggest changes, AIBA has disbanded its five-star refereeing and judging structure. AIBA has said it will alter the way refereesand judges are assigned to a competition. An automated Swiss Timing system will now assign officials to matches, with all five judges’ scorecards used to determine the winner of a bout instead of just three chosen at random by a computer. Currently, five judges officiate a bout and a computer randomly picks three scores, which determines the winner.

Will the boxers, who were at the receiving end of a controversial decision, get their medal?

No. The AIBA has said they will not be reallocating the medals awarded at Rio 2016.

Will the sidelined referees be back again?

Each official will be vetted again on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they’re worthy of reinstatement in time for the Tokyo Olympics. Till then, they will not officiate in any tournament.

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