Lausanne, Switzerland | AFP |
Professional boxers can compete at the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the sport’s governing body ruled in a landmark decision on Wednesday.
But it is unlikely to see boxing’s biggest names enter the Olympic ring in Rio — for most professionals, like former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, it is already too late to take part in a qualifying contest.
The last tournament is in Venezuela in July.
Meeting at an extraordinary congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, 95 percent of the AIBA delegates voted in favour of the controversial move, an AIBA statement said.
“This is a momentous occasion for AIBA, for Olympic boxing, and for our sport as a whole, and represents another great leap forward in the evolution of boxing,” AIBA chief Wu Ching-Kuo said.
In an interview with AFP, Wu described Wednesday’s vote as “a first step”, adding that among the 28 sporting disciplines represented in Rio, boxing was the only one with restrictions on professional athletes.
Wu has aggressively supported the move, just the latest in a series of changes to Olympic boxing in recent years. Women were allowed into Olympic competition in 2012 and headguards will no longer be compulsory from Rio.
Proponents of the latest change argue that the admission of professional basketball to the Olympics in time for the 1992 Games in Barcelona helped make men’s basketball one of the most hotly anticipated events of the Games.
There is a rich history of fighters making their name at the Olympics before moving on to have groundbreaking professional careers, including Muhammad Ali, who won gold at the Rome Games in 1960, when still known as Cassius Clay.
But the move has not convinced everyone, including former gold medallist and world heavyweight title-holder Lennox Lewis, who said it was “preposterous”.
Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson last month judged the move as “ridiculous” and “stupid”, condemning the plan as a bid “to monetise Olympic boxing”.
But British boxer Amir Khan on Wednesday hailed the decision and said he wanted to represent the country of his parents’ birth, Pakistan.
Khan, born and raised in Bolton, England, won a silver medal in the lightweight category of the 2004 Athens Olympics before turning professional a year later.
“If I am permitted as per rules and from my promoter then I would love to compete for Pakistan,” he said at a press conference.
Pakistan Boxing Federation secretary Iqbal Hussain told AFP he was thrilled at the prospect of “hero” Khan representing the country.
Philippine legend Manny Pacquiao, who won world titles at eight different weight categories, had also hinted he was interested but said this week he would concentrate on his burgeoning political career.
AIBA will have to answer questions about its dope-testing policy in order to satisfy the International Olympic Committee, which is embroiled in a series of doping scandals and is battling to keep drug cheats out of the Rio Games.
AIBA revealed on Wednesday that Turkish boxer Adem Kilicci was amongst the 23 athletes whose retested doping samples from the London 2012 Games have come up positive.
Kilicci, who fought at under-75kg in London, had also qualified for the Rio Games but is suspended while waiting for the results of his B test.
AIBA has come under fire for its dope-testing record after British magazine Private Eye reported that a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report found AIBA had not carried out any out-of-competition tests in the year ahead of Rio, and hardly any in the past three years.
The report was quoted as saying that AIBA’s actions fell “considerably short” of WADA’s requirements.
WADA spokesman Ben Nichols confirmed that the agency’s inspection team had given AIBA recommendations aimed at “improving and enhancing” its anti-doping programme, on which the boxing governing body has started working.