Olympic boxing marred by judging controversy — again

Boxing's world governing body has sent home an undisclosed number of referees and judges from the Rio Olympics, casting another shadow over a sport that has long struggled with corruption.

Judges sent home from Rio

Irish fighter Michael Conlan went on a tirade after judges gave the win to his Russian opponent in their bantamweight bout in Rio. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

By Jamie Strashin, CBC Sports

When I reach boxer Johnny Kalbhenn at a Toronto gym, he knows why I'm calling. 

He's been watching the Olympics. Watching yet another judging controversy envelop his beloved sport.

"Obviously nothing's changed by the looks of things," Kalbhenn says. "You look at some of these decisions and you wonder, what are they watching?"

It's been more than 30 years since Kalbhenn's Olympic dream ended in Los Angeles. He laughs when I ask if he remembers who beat him.

"A guy named Reiner Geis. I will never forget that."

And he was beaten fair and square?

"No," he says. "People in L.A were booing. He ran. He was about 6-foot-1 and I was about 5-foot-5. He ran, I chased him, he held. He won the decision."

Kalbhenn is part of a long line of boxers who've felt the sting of an unjust or controversial decision. The most famously aggrieved boxer was Roy Jones Jr., at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The American famously refused to leave the ring when judges gave the decision to the clearly beaten South Korean fighter.

In Rio, it appears the controversy looming over the ring for years has finally spilled over the ropes.

The sport's world governing body, the International Boxing Association (AIBA), has sent home an undisclosed number of referees and judges from Rio after reviewing 239 bouts. The review found "less than a handful of the decisions were not at the level expected."

But nothing will actually be changed. AIBA said all of the results would stand.

Canadians caught in controversy

A number of Olympic bouts have drawn scrutiny. Russian heavyweight Evgeny Tishchenko's victory over Kazakh Vassiliy Levit was widely questioned after it appeared Levit dictated much of the action.

Canadian boxers also pointed to the judges.

To many observers, it appeared Ariane Fortin won a majority of the rounds in her opening-round bout. But judges awarded the match to Kazakhstan's Dariga Shakimova.

"In my mind it was clear we won three of the four rounds," Canadian boxing team leader Daniel Trepanier said. "In the corner we really thought we won the fight."

The AIBA instituted a new scoring method for these Olympics, moving away from the old computerized system. The so-called "10-point must" system, used in professional boxing, is designed to reward a boxer's "spirit and style," not just his ability to land punches. Barring any deductions, a judge awards 10 points to the fighter he thinks won the round. The loser usually receives nine.

Five judges — usually chosen about 10 minutes before the fight — score each bout and a computer chooses which three cards will count.

An AIBA executive board member told The Associated Press the events in Rio are "likely to be a catalyst for changes in the organization's judging criteria."

To many observers the criteria are just fine. It`s the allegedly corrupt judges and AIBA officials who are the real problem.

In the years leading up to Rio, a number of highly publicized investigations were published, alleging widespread match fixing. There were numerous instances where particular bouts, for various reasons, were affected by manipulating which judges worked.

Irish fighter goes off

In Rio, boxers have been increasingly vocal about the judging.

Ireland's Michael Conlan gave the finger to judges after many had assumed he`d beaten Russian Vladimir Nikitin.

"They are f------ cheats. I am never boxing for anybody again. They are f------ cheats, paying everybody. I don't care if I'm swearing on live TV," Conlan railed. "I came here to win Olympic gold and I've had my dream shattered. I wanted to go back to Ireland as a winner, not a loser. And today just showed how corrupt his organization is."

Conlan followed up his rant with a blistering tweet.

Even members of the AIBA's own executive are distraught at what's transpired in Rio.

Pat Fiacco is the president of Boxing Canada and also sits on the AIBA executive board. He says the notion that judges don`t know the rules is absurd. He also concedes there is likely more to come.

"It breaks my heart to see boxers get to this point, spend eight, 10, 12 years preparing, and then for the result to be clear and not have you hand raised? The scoring criteria are very clear. It's just not right."

Fiacco says Olympic officials go through a year of evaluation and attended an additional seminar before Rio.

"I find it hard to believe it's incompetence," he says.

Veteran boxing analyst Russ Anber has watched hundreds of Olympic boxing matches and says this year is worse than ever.

"They [the AIBA] are corrupt. It is a select few people that are selected to referee at an Olympic Games. You have to be a member of the tribe. You have to be a referee that they hand pick," Anber says. "And these guys they have sent home, they are being scapegoated, they were just following orders, now they are being scapegoated. This is posturing by the AIBA. If you really wanted to do something you would have had a jury overturn the decisions."

The AIBA's statement Wednesday also addresses the issue of corruption.

"With regards to corruption," it states, "we would like to strongly restate that unless tangible proof is put forward, not rumours, we will continue to use any means, including legal, to protect our sport."

Back in Toronto, three decades removed from his Olympic experience in Los Angeles,  Johnny Kalbhenn sees a sport where little has changed. He says it remains a political game, with ever-changing rules, run by crooked people.

He has advice to anybody who feels robbed of their Olympic dream.

"Try and take the good out of it. Be proud of yourself don't let the bad part fester and ruin your whole experience."

He admits, it's taken a long time for him to feel that way.


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