Olympic boxing decisions are under scrutiny once again; it's time the authorities followed the example of other sports in reforming the rules
The Olympic Games closed with fireworks and spectacular performances from British singers on Sunday night in London, but for Thais especially, the scoring system in boxing has again become a cause for chagrin at the biggest sports event in the world.
The latest questions have been raised not only by millions of fans in Thailand but also around the world, after the referee declared China’s Zou Shiming the winner in the light flyweight final over Thailand’s Kaew Pongprayoon. The decision came as a surprise, even a shock, to the international audience, with some in the crowd jeering the decision by the jury. “He’s a very, very lucky man,” an English commentator said of the Chinese boxer.
Of course the judges had a different opinion. But this controversy must lead to reform of the scoring system, to make decisions transparent and easier to understand. Otherwise the questionable scoring system will continue to tarnish the integrity of the amateur boxing tournament, as it has done at almost every Olympiad.
This is not a plea from sore losers. A series of events over the past two weeks underlines the fact that Zou Shiming’s victory was not the only case in which the loser did not feel that justice was done, either to himself or the Olympic spirit.
The BBC recently reported on the controversies over the scoring system in the men’s boxing, which came after a series of disputed results. “Eyebrows were first raised last Wednesday when a contender from Azerbaijan fought a Japanese opponent,” the BBC said. “The Azeri bantamweight Magomed Abdulhamidov won the match despite being put down six times in the final round.”
After an appeal by Japan the decision was overturned. But the report also noted, “We were told US$9 million had been paid by Azerbaijan to the international boxing authorities in return for two golds. The International Boxing Association denied any wrongdoing. The IOC found no formal evidence of cash being given for medals as the situation stands.”
The match between another Azeri, Teymur Mammadov, who was awarded a narrow victory against Belarusian Siarhei Karneyeu, also raised many questions among those who saw it. Belarus appealed, but this time there was no reversal of the decision.
Thai boxer Sailom Ardee was controversially defeated by Gani Zhailauov of Kazakhstan on a count-back after a 12-12 draw. The crowd could see who the better fighter was. After all, Gani was put on the canvas more than once during the match.
The computerised scoring system no longer shows points accumulated throughout the match. A point is scored when a majority of ringside judges push a button indicating that a fighter has connected with a punch. The total scores are now shown at the end of each round. Thus, final results will often be disputed by those watching the action.
Other sports have dealt with similar problems and have corrected their scoring systems to enhance the credibility of the contests. Taekwondo once had similar problems with its scoring system, but the World Taekwondo Federation introduced a new high-tech scoring system and instant video reviews to make the scoring more transparent.
Clear scoring systems will certainly enhance the Olympic spirit. This is the biggest sporting event on earth and audiences demand nothing less than fair play from all parties involved – athletes, referees and judges. After all, women’s badminton doubles players Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli – the world’s No 1 pair – were earlier disqualified from the competition along with another six female players on charges of not putting in their best effort to win a match. The incident shows that failure to respect the integrity of the sport is unacceptable.
The Thai management team, meanwhile, should have been better prepared to protect the interests of their men. Thailand’s failure to make an appeal within the stated time limit in both Kaew and Sailom’s cases reveals only inefficiency and incompetence from the Thai side.