Can you fix an Olympic boxing match?

By Mike CostelloBBC boxing commentator
Boxing gloves
Computerised scoring was introduced after the 1988 Olympics

The great promoter and manager Mickey Duff was not far wrong with his lament: "Honest judges will do out of stupidity what you could never get bent judges to do."

Acts of skulduggery in Olympic boxing are hard to orchestrate - and even more difficult to prove. There is no bulging net, no skittled stumps to end all argument. Lives and careers are shaped by the subjective judgments of the men sat where the blood doesn't spill.

In Olympic boxing, five judges watch on from various positions around the ring. Each has a keypad with one red and one blue button.

For ease of identification, and whatever their national colours, the boxer in the red corner is kitted out in red, including his gloves, with the other fighter kitted out in blue.

When a judge believes the boxer in red has landed a punch, he presses the red button - and vice versa with his opponent. And so it goes for the three rounds of three minutes.

At the end of each round, the highest and lowest of the judges' scores are dismissed. The three closest marks are retained and the average is calculated to give an overall score.

It is much like a computer game, demanding high levels of dexterity and concentration. In most cases, judges are trying to keep pace with the movements and punches of youngsters half their age. There is ample scope for error - and worse.

To score in favour of one boxer, a judge can act in two ways. He can go trigger-happy for the man he wants to win or refrain from registering the punches of the "loser".

That is the straightforward part, but to implement a plan for a single boxer for the duration of the Olympics would be incredibly complex.

Three years ago in Beijing, James DeGale fought five times to win gold. For each of his contests, a different permutation of judges sat in assessment, with the officials selected at random by a software programme designed to guard against regional or national bias.

Even if the computer programme is tampered with, many of the judges would have to be in on the scam to guarantee its success.

Given that some judges could not be bought at any price, compiling the rota to suit a "chosen" boxer on any given day would require a stroke of genius.

The referee provides an easier route to corruption. He has the power to issue official warnings for infringements, which result in two points being awarded to the fouled boxer.

The fixing, though, would have to start now. Gone are the days - before the Barcelona Games in 1992 - when any nation could enter any boxer for the Olympics.

A strict qualifying programme around the world ensures that only the best arrive at the Games. Competition is fierce for precious few places.

Only two Azerbaijan boxers qualified for Beijing in 2008 but there were nine in Athens four years earlier, a more accurate measure of the former Soviet republic's boxing prowess.

Park Si-Hun and Roy Jones
Roy Jones (right) was on the end of a controversial defeat to Park Si-hun in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul

Azerbaijan has never had an Olympic champion, though the former Soviet state has won four bronze medals during the last three Games.

Computerised scoring was introduced as a result of the controversies at the 1988 Games in Seoul.

American Roy Jones, who went on to achieve legendary status in the professional ranks, was the victim of what is generally regarded as the worst decision in boxing history.

Jones came up against South Korean Park Si-hun in the fight to decide the light-middleweight gold medal and despite landing more than two punches for every one the American took, the judges ruled differently, giving gold to his opponent to the astonishment of neutral observers ringside.

There were many other travesties and the then International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch threatened to remove boxing from the Olympics.

The scoring system's organisation was modified in March this year.

One of the changes involves the flow of information. Spectators in the arena and television viewers at home will no longer see the scores updating during a round, with the overall tallies revealed only at the end of each three-minute round. The potential for concealment has grown.

So much for "improving the transparency" of officials, as stated among the objectives of the International Boxing Association on the world governing body's website.

So much for "protecting the interests of boxers".

All too often, crimes are committed by those closest to the victim.

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