Every four years I find myself having to justify the sport of boxing being included as an Olympic event. A lot of the time I feel fully justified in my defense. The sport is a (relatively) ancient one, and one that has a genuine tradition at the Olympic Games, so its inclusion should be a complete no brainer.
But every so often – and more often than it should – the sport kicks me fair in the nuts, compliments of its officialdom. If it’s not the much maligned scoring system, it’s the refereeing. Those of you unfortunate enough to witness this morning’s competition will understand my dilemma. Iran’s Ali Mazaheri certainly will.
Mazaheri was up against Cuban Jose Larduet Gomez in the heavyweight division, and had a two point lead going into the second round. German referee (and I use the term referee exceptionally loosely) Frank Scharmach then came to the decision that Mazaheri was continually holding on to his opponent. Scharmach appeared happy to ignore the fact that the Cuban was burrowing in to Mazaheri , who was back pedaling as a result. Somewhat ludicrously, Scharmach gave Mazaheri a warning. Then another. Then (somehow) a third one, which resulted in his disqualification.
If the first warning was ludicrous, the second and third were quite simply disgraceful. Four years’ worth of training sent packing thanks to an official who appears to know as much about boxing as Mahatma Gandhi.
After a brief period of disbelief, Mazaheri ,was big enough to approach the Cuban corner and shake hands with Gomez’ training staff. He then walked straight past Scharmach, and out of the ring. There was some comment that he was being unsportsmanlike, but surely that is the better option when the only alternative is plastering Scharmach with a right hook.
The International Amateur Boxing Association released a statement, which said:
“The Iranian boxer received three warnings during his bout. According to Rule 12.2.1 of the AIBA Technical & Competition Rules, ‘only three warnings may be given to the same boxer in one contest. The third warning brings automatic disqualification’.”
Yeah, we saw. We know the rules – it’s a real shame for Ali Mazaheri that your officials don’t.
But wait – there’s more!
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Satoshi Shimizu, a bantamweight from Japan. Up against Azerbaijan’s Magomed Abdulhamidov, Shimizu didn’t exactly box brilliantly in the first two rounds. In fact, he was behind by seven points going into Round Three. He needed a miracle, and it should have happened.
Shimizu had Abdulhamidov on the canvas no less than six times in the final round. Of the six, it is arguable that Shimizu landed anything worthwhile as far as devastating punches go. The first was a decent punch that knocked the wind out of Abdulhamidov, who was then satisfied to flop around the floor for the remainder of the round, giving his best impression of as freshly landed snapper.
After six “knockdowns” in the same round, Abdulhamidov should have been sent home, yet his only penalty was a two point deduction. Amazingly, the result of the third round was only 12-10 to Shimuzu, who then lost the bout.
In defence of the AIBA, they met and decided that Abdulhamidov should have received “at least three” standing eight counts and reversed the result on appeal.
And if you think you’ve heard the phrases “Azerbaijan” and “boxing” in the same sentence before, it may have been in September 2011. That was when allegations (that were never substantiated) surfaced suggesting that country was promised two gold medals at the London Olympics in exchange for a US$10 million loan to the sport’s ruling body.
Olympic boxing has always been shrouded in controversy, and you don’t need to travel too far from home for proof. Just ask New Zealand’s Kevin Barry Jr or Keith Walker.
Diabolical decisions such as the ones this morning have further tarnished the sport at Olympic level, making my original justification all the more difficult.