Kevin Hickey: AIBA are forgetting traditional cultural differences between amateur and professional boxing

Manny Pacquiao (centre), pictured with AIBA President CK Wu (right) has expressed interest in qualifying for Rio 2016 ©AIBA

BOXING (Amateur)
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The choice would be to either withdraw him from the competition or retire him early in the contest.

It certainly would not be Olympic-style viewing for vast audiences to watch a one-sided contest. The protection of the amateur boxer - previously the only type of boxers to compete at the Games until the International Boxing Association (AIBA) opened the door - has to override any concern for providing gladiatorial entertainment.

Qualifying as a boxer for Rio has already become a complex business, with more spins to probably follow after Pacquiao's declared interest in competing. There will be boxers who have qualified for Rio over five, eight and 12 rounds. The Olympic competition is over three rounds.

Barry McGuigan rightly compared this to being like a runner qualifying over 5,000 metres for the 400m event. Add to that the contrasting technical and tactical differences and one could begin to ask serious questions about the AIBA qualifying process.

One also wonders how the new qualifying system will impact on the existing development and elite boxing programmes within National Olympic Committees worldwide. Would it be realistic for smaller countries with limited budgets to be able to compete on a level playing field, e.g. the WSB qualifying programme? Are their boxers to be disadvantaged, with the probable knock-on Government budget cuts, as any realistic chance of qualifying boxers for the Olympic Games disappears?

How well will AIBA Open “new style boxing” in Rio blend in to the Olympic programme culture? Boxing is not like other “open sports” on the Olympic programme. Serious head injuries can be caused, especially as a result of the new scoring system which encourages an increase in mid and short range hooks in the new HeadsUp style. It is well researched that it is the rotation of the head from hooks which is the main cause of brain damage.

Amateur and professional boxing are virtually two different sports. The science of amateur boxing is to hit your opponent without being hit yourself. Pro boxing is essentially a business; about providing fight entertainment to be packaged and sold to the general public. Putting the two together as one is trying to mix two different cultures. A youngster might well be inspired by Amir Khan, but he has first to learn the basics of his trade as an amateur.

Amateur boxing as to attract young men and women into gyms were the art and science of the sport is learned. The amateur sport is perhaps about the four core values of Safety, Skill, Fairness and Self-Discipline, in contrast to Dr Wu's four “Open Boxing“ pillars of Health, Education, Sport and Sustainability.

There is more media concern and public awareness of “safety in combat and contact sports” than ever before. This is evidenced by the recent public airing of parental concerns in the National Football League (NFL) and the current debate on rugby-tackling in the UK.

This safety requirement will surely grow as science develops more sophisticated technology. It is well within the realm of possibility that measuring the degree of concussion caused by a punch could be a safeguard introduced ringside.

The International Olympic Committee will be monitoring such research closely and considering their duty of care whilst watching the levels of injury sustained in Rio's Olympic boxing competition.

It could be that AIBA Open Boxing is in danger of jeopardising the place of boxing at future Olympic Games, as well as doing real harm to grass roots amateur boxing - which is presently thriving in the UK and in many countries as never before.

Dr Wu might be leading boxing to the promised land of a united sport - or the road to self destruction. All really for perhaps unnecessarily trying to join two contrasting cultures. For the sake of the sport of amateur boxing - which still exists as such in schools, clubs and even at national and international level around the world.

I hope he is right, but my experience as GB Boxing Coach at five Olympics tells me otherwise.

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