Amateur boxing needs a reversal, and now
Features Friday, October 10, 2014 - 05:30
By Abheek Dasgupta Follow @abheekreddevil September 30 was a highly controversial day in the 2014 Asian Games as far as boxing is concerned, with London Olympics silver medallist Nyambayaryn Tögstsogt of Mongolia and Sarita Devi of India having lost their bouts to their South Korean opponents in highly controversial circumstances. While the Indian contingent has filed an official appeal, which has since been rejected, the Mongolian contingent has gone one step further, with their boxing team threatening to withdraw altogether from the event. I started watching amateur boxing during the 2008 Olympics and one of the major reasons for that was that it was widely believed that India had a good chance of winning a medal in the discipline. The bouts then were pretty easy to follow. Every time one of the boxers lands a good solid punch onto the opponent's face or body, his or her score would increase by one point. Other multi-sport events such as the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2010 Asian Games followed and boxing seemed to be pretty interesting. However, there was a change in the rules before the 2012 Olympics and as a result, the scores were not shown to the crowd, and even the competing boxers had no idea regarding their scores at the end of each round. What followed was a large number of controversies and disputes regarding refereeing and officiating in the boxing events. In the 2012 Olympics, there were twelve bouts in which the refereeing was highly questionable. Three of these bouts had an Indian boxer, and in all the three cases, the boxer in question ended up losing. Commentators had used terms such as 'daylight robbery' to describe these bouts. Over time, the International Boxing Association, or the AIBA, has introduced many changes to the sport. One of them has been a change in the scoring system, with the 'ten-point must system' of professional boxing being adopted. In this system, the winner of a round gets ten points, and the loser of the round gets points with respect to the winner. This does not work in amateur boxing, because unlike professional boxing, which has twelve rounds per bout, it has only three rounds of three minutes each for men and four rounds of two minutes each for women. Due to the length of a professional boxing bout, it is easy to identify who is the better boxer since both of them get worn out over a long period of time. Also, quite often, the bout doesn't last twelve rounds but ends with one of the boxers getting knocked out, or the referee stopping the contest. However, as we have seen in the bouts happening at Incheon, most of them have been close, and using the present points system, it is nearly impossible to separate the two boxers based on performance, and as a result, the boxer who appears to hold the edge, is quite often not the one whose hand is lifted by the referee at the end of the bout. While I have not seen Sarita Devi's bout, I have seen the bout between Tögstsogt of Mongolia and Ham of South Korea, and it appeared pretty clear to me that the Mongolian was landing the more powerful punches. He also appeared pretty confident that he had won the bout, and was raising his hand believing he had won, until the referee lifted his Korean opponent's hand. However, lengthening amateur boxing bouts to twelve rounds in not feasible. This is because a lot of bouts have to be scheduled within the two weeks, and lengthening the bouts to four times it current length would mean it taking a long time. Secondly, a bout over twelve rounds completely saps the energy of any boxer. Top professional boxers do not fight more than two bouts in an entire year, and therefore fighting four or five such bouts in two weeks can actually be very dangerous. Why not go back to the London Olympics scoring system? This is because transparency is only going to help the boxers, as they would have an idea as to which punch led to them scoring points, and can also help them change tactics for later rounds. For example, if a boxer is leading by a small margin before the final round, he/she can emphasise on trying to protect the lead by going defensive. AIBA should, therefore, now realise that their attempts at changing the scoring pattern has only led to more controversies, and that giving points based on punches landed is the only way forward, because over time, it has been clearly found out that this is the only way to separate two boxers in a short bout of under ten minutes.