Amateur boxers face prospect of fighting professionals in Rio

Special Report by Sean Wilson

Amateur boxers hoping to compete at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio this year may now have to face professional opponents.

The current IOC ruling states that any fighter with 15 or more paid fights is ineligible for the Games, but AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu wants to do away with it in time for Rio 2016.

He said: “We want the best boxers to come to the Olympic Games. It is AIBA’s 70th birthday, and we want something to change – not after four years, but now.”

However, the qualification process for boxing is already well underway, and around 60 boxers have already qualified for the Games. If the rule change does go through at AIBA’s Extraordinary Congress (anticipated to be held in early June), it is uncertain exactly how professionals will qualify. What is clear is that they will have to go through some kind of qualification process.

Dr Wu added: “The other professional boxers have to go through the system and get qualified, get their national federation’s support in order to be qualified. If you look at the design of this, it’s very difficult (to qualify).”

National federations are not obligated to pick a quota of professional boxers, and some are unlikely to choose professionals over amateurs that they have trained and funded over a four-year period. But nothing is stopping them from plugging any gaps in their squad with a professional. Others have high-profile professionals who appear to be keen on making an appearance at the Olympics, such as Manny Pacquiao.

Some have opposed this movement – including Lennox Lewis, super-heavyweight champion at the 1988 Games in Seoul. He highlighted the vast difference in experience between top professionals and amateurs as a major concern, as headgear is set to be removed from men’s boxing at the Olympics for the first time since 1984.

Lewis said: “The amateur system is based for amateurs – this is why we put in the headgear to protect them because they have a lack of experience… Now all of a sudden, you get a world champion or somebody in the top 10 as a professional now going against an amateur… I don’t look at that as being fair.”

Had this rule change been implemented when Lewis was competing, he would have faced the possibility of coming up against then world champion Mike Tyson – a fight which Lewis admits would have been a mismatch at the time.

Facts
  • Headguards have been worn at every Olympic Games since Los Angeles in 1984 and will still be used by female boxers this year.
  • The current rule allowing pro fighters with under 15 fights to compete was only introduced in 2013.
  • If Manny Pacquiao competes in the Olympics, he will do so with 65 professional fights under his belt – 51 more than the current rule allows.

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