And then there were none. The last of Ireland’s eight boxers departed from the Olympic Games yesterday. But was Michael Conlan beaten or betrayed?
Was the Belfast bantambeaten fair and square in the ring, or was he betrayed by a judging system so past caring about justice it is content to blatantly misrepresent the evidence in front of its eyes?
Conlan was convinced he won the quarter-final against Russian Vladimir Nikitin. So were team coaches Eddie Bolger and Zaur Antia. So was the crowd who booed the decision for several minutes.
Conlan tore off his red vest, stomping around the ring long after his opponent and officials had left. “See everybody’s reaction after. They didn’t believe he won, I didn’t believe he won, the crowd didn’t believe he won, I don’t think his corner even believed he won,” said Conlan.
Conlan looked much the better boxer in the first round, dancing around the Russian, picking him off, but all three judges carded it against him. “When I got back to the corner I wasn’t even breathing heavy,” said Conlan.
Conlan’s corner men, hearing the verdict on that round, changed tactics to stand and fight, a toe-to-toe brawl with a bar-room brawler. Not pretty but effective. He still won the second round 3-0. “Michael had an excellent second round,” said Eddie Bolger.
The Russian was bleeding heavily from an old head scar, the blood running over his left eye. Three times the fight was stopped while a doctor attended to it. The third round was closer. Conlan thought he had won it but not one judge agreed. So the overall result was a unanimous points win for the Russian. Not a doubt in the heads of Brazilian, Sri Lankan and Polish judges.
That’s what was incredible. Results are reviewed by a commission but their thoughts remain confidential. “Results will not be reversed,” said a representative of AIBA.
Their commission, he admitted, had reviewed yesterday the decision of another set of judges on Sunday to give another Russian Evgeny Tischenko the decision in the final of the heavyweights against Kazak Vassilly Levit. Again the crowd was convinced the decision was back to front and booed even as the medals were presented. Perhaps to AIBA’s embarrassment IOC president Thomas Bach was there to hear it. Another controversial decision came in the women’s middleweight division on Sunday when a Canadian Ariane Fortin thought she had beaten a Kazak Dariga Shakimova but lost on a split verdict.
Before the Olympic tournament began, Britain’s Guardian newspaper ran a story quoting various sources including Irish judge Seamus Kelly who feared the Olympic tournament would be corrupted by the manipulation of the draw and the appointment of judges and referees.
It pointed out the AIBA is heavily indebted and had to borrow $10 million from Azerbajian to stay in business.
At around the same time the specialist website Fight News carried an article by a Bulgarian journalist who detailed allegations about an Olympic qualifying event in Venezuela. The city of Vargas there paid $450,000 to AIBA to host the event, and the result was four of the six Venezuelan boxers qualified for Rio.
Amateur boxing has long been a problem sport within the Olympic movement. In 1988 in the South Korean capital of Seoul American Roy Jones Jnr landed 86 punches to his Korean opponent’s 32 but lost the gold medal. The judging system then was the same as it is today, three judges making supposedly objective decisions.
In 1989, the system was changed so punches were counted but that caused many problems. Boxers leading after two rounds would run backwards in the last round.
So after the London Olympics, the present system was introduced where five judges officiated and a computer decided which three counted. The judges are independent of their national federations, are not allowed mobile phones when they come to the arena and are not told until 10 minutes before a bout they are officiating.
Allegations, however, have emerged of hand and head signals between the judges to inform each other of how they should vote. Nothing is proved and AIBA has not said it has heard the claims officially.
Ultimately the only certain decision is a knockout. Anything else is subjective. In the end, Conlan was right certainly in both comment he made. “It’s been a horrendous week of scoring for Irish boxing. We got no favours.”
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