An overwhelming vote yesterday by the sport’s governing body allows any boxer to try to qualify next month and earn selection for their national team.
“At the moment it is difficult to anticipate (how many), but there will be some who want to get qualification,” AIBA President CK Wu said after a special meeting of member federations.
AIBA’s plan, however, has been criticised across the professional ranks as a move toward dangerous mismatches between established boxers and inexperienced amateurs.
Although Manny Pacquiao had been slated to be a superstar attraction in Rio, he decided last week to focus on his political career as an elected senator in the Philippines. Other big names could come from Russia. The head coach of that country’s Olympic boxing team, Alexander Lebzyak, said it was possible Russia could enter two reigning professional world champions: Sergei Kovalev and Denis Lebedev.
Of 88 federations who came to Lausanne for the single-issue meeting, 84 approved the rule change less than 10 weeks before the first bouts in Rio, including Ireland. The other four members abstained, AIBA said. A total of 26 entry places can be earned at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Venezuela next month.
Reacting to the Congress vote, Pat Ryan, Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) President, who was the official IABA delegate in Lausanne, said: “The IABA wishes to make it very clear that there will be no immediate changes in response to this vote, until there has been a full consultation with the relevant stakeholders within the organisation.”
Two-time Irish Olympian Michael Conlan insists that no pro boxer would beat him over three rounds.
Conlan, who is ranked No1 in the world at 56kg and a two-time Olympian, said: “It doesn’t bother me [the rule change]. I’m the best in the world anyway.
“It takes time to adjust to the amateurs. I’m the best at it and they [the pros] are not the best at it, simple as that. They’ll be trying to beat me at my game, not their game. That’s not going to happen.”
Though few pros are likely to make the Rio line-up at such short notice, the longer term aim is letting paid fighters know they should target the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“These are milestones for Tokyo. This is what is happening now,” Netherlands federation president Boris van der Vorst said. Wu has consistently pushed to extend AIBA’s influence over professional boxing, and already relaxed rules to allow paid fighters to compete at the Olympics.
In 2013, eligibility for Rio was given to boxers who are signed to AIBA-run professional tournaments. AIBA spokesman Nicolas Jomard rejected the idea pro fighters would dominate the amateurs, saying the amateurs benefit from their quickness and the three-round format, a view espoused last week by former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
“AIBA boxers have gone through a stringent qualification,” Jomard said. “So they’re the best around. A lot of them have already sparred with some of these professionals. So the disparity of level, the boys against men tonality, is a misjudgment. All the talk of disparity of level is just not true.”
It is unclear how many pro fighters would be attracted by an Olympic tournament, fighting up to five times over two weeks and going unpaid.
Lebzyak, the Russian coach, told the Tass news agency a decision on its team would be taken later this month after an amateur qualifying tournament in Azerbaijan. Kovalev is the WBA, IBF and WBO champion at light heavyweight, and Lebedev is the WBA and IBF champion at cruiserweight.