Olympic standards must be held high

RTÉ should be congratulated for its magnificent coverage of the Olympic Games. 

Irish people had a great opportunity to watch a variety of different sports, possibly for the first time. It was enlightening to watch team sports like hockey and volleyball, in which the teams had a right to ask for a refereeing decision to be reviewed by a video referee. The process, which has been used in rugby, took up very little time and provided a magnificent example of how other games, especially soccer, could benefit. It also demonstrated how technology can insure fair play, which should be at the heart of all sport.

Older Irish people will remember that only hours after Ronnie Delany won a gold medal in Melbourne in 1956, the late Fred Teidt was robbed of a gold medal in the boxing. The decision that night was widely denounced as a travesty.

Olympic boxing has never been far from controversy. An appeal procedure was introduced to allow a decision to be reviewed, and judges were supposed to record each punch landed by a fighter. Those changes were subsequently dropped, but the procedure was retained whereby the scoring by the judges was released at the end of each round. This was supposed to ensure transparency in judging.

Even though Michael Conlon’s corner thought he had decisively won the first round of his bout with the Russian, Vladimir Nikitin, on Tuesday, the judges voted otherwise. Conlon therefore changed his tactics and took a more active role in fighting rather than just boxing his opponent.

Impartial viewers were essentially unanimous that Conlon won the fight, but the decision went against him. Nikitin suffered such a beating in this fight that he was unable to contest the semi-final on Thursday.

Amid uproar over the Conlon fight and a heavyweight decider, the Amateur International Boxing Association issued a statement with a classical Freudian-slip, announcing that it “remains fully committed to a zero-tolerance policy towards fair play in boxing”. The association later announced that it had sent six judges home.

Many countries invest vast sums of money in promoting sport. This is inevitably welcomed if the sportsmen and women of those countries distinguish themselves in the international arena, especially at the Olympic Games.

There is so much money involved, however, that it can, and has, led to serious levels of corruption. There have been allegations of the systematic use of performance enhancing drugs and the bribery of judges.

Most Russian athletes were excluded from the Rio Olympics as a result of organised state-sponsored doping. It would be interesting to know the actual role of some officials of the Olympic Council of Ireland in opposing the exclusion of those Russians. This is something that should be investigated by the independent inquiry that Sport Minister Shane Ross has been suggesting.

The Government has been funding sport with public money, and the whole thing is much too important to be left at the whim of those wearing the blazers that run sport. They should be held accountable in the national interest.

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