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AIBA kicked out of Olympics

By Joaquin Henson
Fri, 13 Dec 2019

FIG president Morinari Watanabe.

With the Philippines’ dominant showing in boxing at this year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, hopes are high that there will be a strong cast to represent the country in the coming Tokyo Olympics.

The conduct of the Olympic boxing competition will be supervised by a task force appointed by IOC not involving AIBA officials. AIBA has been suspended by IOC for the spate of long-running irregularities casting doubt on the integrity of the sport and all 36 referees/judges assigned to the 2016 Games will not participate in Tokyo. It didn’t help AIBA’s reputation that Gafur Rahimov of Uzbekistan was elected AIBA president last November. Rahimov is on a US sanctions list for alleged criminal activities.

Federation Internationale de Gymnastique president Morinari Watanabe, who was in Manila to attend the SEA Games for a few days last week, was hand-picked by IOC president Thomas Bach to head the task force. Others in the five-man task force are IOC executive board member Willi Kaltschmitt Lujan of Guatemala, IOC member William Blick of Uganda, International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer of Austria and IOC Athletes Commission member Aya Medany of Egypt.

The task force will stage four continental qualifying tournaments and a final world qualifying competition from February to May next year to select the boxers competing in the Olympics. Wuhan, China, will host the Asia and Oceania event. Dakar, Senegal, will be the site of the African qualifier while London will take care of Europe. Buenos Aires, Argentina, will hold the Americas event. The final world qualifying tournament will be in Paris.

Watanabe, 60, was chosen because of his managerial skills and the success of Japan’s gymnastics program under his leadership. He's a staunch believer in reaching out to athletes and coaches for their views before making decisions concerning the development or progress of a sport. Watanabe is also a stickler for transparency and honesty. For the task force, he engaged 10 athlete ambassadors from different countries to interact with the boxing community in planning for the qualifying events. World champion Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine was tapped as one of two European ambassadors while Asia is represented by China’s Hu Jianguan and India’s Mary Kom.

Close coordination with national boxing federations will lead to the selection of the referees and judges for the Olympics. The pool will be assembled from a list of qualified AIBA-certified referees and judges. The task force will randomly select every official for each fight and the process will be overseen by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Scores of all judges at the end of each round will be displayed publicly in monitors during a fight. “The main objective of the IOC boxing task force is to ensure the completion of the mission of delivering events while putting the boxers first and with transparent and credible scoring results and fair play,” said Watanabe.

In Manila, Watanabe said the existing 10-point must system of scoring will be retained for the Tokyo Olympics but the method is under study and may be changed for the 2024 Games. “We’re testing new systems including bringing back the console box where judges press two buttons for each fighter to score every hit,” he said. “It’s under review. We’re still determining whether the fight will be decided by cumulative hits or a round-to-round basis. This will go through a consultation process.”

Even in gymnastics, Watanabe is initiating ways to improve scoring. In January, he’s calling a meeting of over 100 coaches from about 70 to 80 countries in Moscow to discuss measures in lessening the degree of subjectivity in scoring rhythm gymnastics. “Coaches know the gymnasts best,” he said. “They spend five to eight hours a day together in the gym. They know the problems in the sport, they can suggest solutions. The coming convention will bring together coaches and we’re interested to listen to what they have to say. We want to be more transparent, we want to be fair. We want to do things the right way. I’ve formed a technical committee of seven members to look into improving the standards of scoring rhythmic gymnastics. Rhythmic has a history of ballet and we want it to focus more on technical artistry than music.”

A visionary, Watanabe said he may propose to include parkour as a gymnastics event in future Olympics. Aeorobic gymnastics is not yet in the pipeline of Olympic disciplines. “Right now, IOC is looking at sports that focus on the youth like BMX, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing,” he said. “In gymnastics, our three basic events are artistic, rhythmic and trampoline. We just held a world trampoline competition in Tokyo and it was a huge success with over 5,000 spectators.”

With Watanabe at the helm, boxing fans are assured of a clean competition in Tokyo. The scoring will be fair and square. Winners will deserve to win and losers will deserve to lose. If Filipino boxers qualify, they’ll be in situation where nobody gets short-changed. In the Tokyo Games, there will be 13 weight divisions, including five for women, just like in this year’s SEA Games. However, the weight categories are slightly different. The men’s divisions in Tokyo will be flyweight (52 kg), featherweight (57 kg), lightweight (63 kg), welterweight (69 kg), middleweight (75 kg), lightheavyweight (81 kg), heavyweight (91 kg) and superheavyweight (+91 kg). The women’s divisions will be flyweight (51 kg), featherweight (57 kg), lightweight (60 kg), welterweight (69 kg) and middleweight (75 kg).

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Joaquin Henson.

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