By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
Last week the Asia/Oceania Olympic qualifier concluded in Amman, Jordan with 63 boxers booking their place in Tokyo. Here are some observations from the tournament as a whole and a few trends that were noticeable.
First of all the standard was exceedingly high and this was in no way diminished by the inclusion of boxers from the Oceania region and actually, those who qualified from Australia and New Zealand enhanced their reputations having beaten quality opposition and those who didn’t including those from the Pacific Islands would have learned a hell of a lot going up against high calibre fighters. Were there mismatches? Sure but even in tournaments such as these that is an inevitability but some excellent boxers failed to make it through showing the strength and depth in the region is pretty sizable.
The Olympic Channel deserves praise for providing a good working stream, excellent features, news, overall coverage and full replays of every session which were invaluable. The quality of judging was generally pretty solid with some strange scoring of individual rounds but no out and out stinkers and the availability of the scores after each round provided transparency and also forced fighters to adapt their game plans when necessary.
Whilst it’s too late for this particular cycle I’ve begrudgingly come to the conclusion that the head guards must return for the men purely to prevent cuts which were a factor in Amman with some bouts halted early and a few fighters unable to compete in their next contest. Sickness and injuries are one thing but a boxer unable to compete for a medal or in a final because of a cut seems preventable and something the authorities should consider after Tokyo.
In terms of most successful Asian nations at the competition, India and Kazakhstan achieved 9 quota places, Uzbekistan with 7, China with 6, Jordan 5, Thailand and Chinese Taipei 4, Japan 3, Iran, South Korea, Philippines, Tajikistan 2, and Mongolia and Vietnam 1 quota place.
India should be absolutely delighted with their 9 guaranteed quota places which is the most they have ever had for any boxing squad for an Olympics. Realistically the country’s best chance for a gold may lie with Vikas Krishan who performed excellently and was denied a chance at winning the final by a cut. The welterweight division has lots of good fighters but no stand out elite one so Krishan has a good a chance as anyone.
Simranjit Kaur was without doubt the most fan friendly and watchable women’s boxer in Amman and will be right in the mix for a medal in a competitive lightweight division worldwide. Flyweight Amit Panghal had some tough fights and didn’t look quite at his best but has built up enough experience over the last couple of years and Lovlina Borgohain and Mary Kom are proven performers on the world stage. Even with a loss Gaurav Solanki gave the winner of the featherweight division and current world champion Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov a tough outing and deserves to go to the world qualifier whenever that takes place.
The Kazak men’s team showed all their experience with all 8 male spots being filled. Vassiliy Levit proved his class defeating the excellent David Nyika in the final and he’ll be aiming to right the wrong of 4 years ago where he was robbed of an Olympic gold in as abhorrent a decision as you will ever see. Middleweight Abilkhan Amankul is among the best in his weight class and Bekzad Nurdauletov backed up his world championship victory by winning the light heavyweight bracket. Zakir Safiullin and Kanshybek Kunkabayev are vastly experienced and Serik Temirzhanov acquitted himself extremely well in his first major assignment. Saken Bibossinov is an outside bet for a medal at flyweight whilst Ablaikhan Zhussupov possesses plenty of skills but might just fall a bit short at welterweight.
Uzbekistan had somewhat of a dream team 4 years ago and whilst the country is still strong a repeat of their performance in Rio is probably not going to occur. Super heavyweight Bakhodir Jalolov barely got out of first gear in Amman but should go into the Olympics as at least the warm favourite to top the podium. Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov can look a little crude at times but his phenomenal fitness and engine make him a difficult man to contain over 9 minutes and no one has managed it so far so he is rightly the favourite at featherweight. Light heavyweight Dilshod Ruzmetov losing in his first fight was a big upset and middleweight Fanat Kakhramonov also has work to do to qualify. As for Sanjar Tursunov, Elnur Abduraimov and Bobo-Usmon Baturov, medals are a possibility but all 3 will be up against it.
China and Chinese Taipei had a bit of a stranglehold of the women’s categories and both nations will expect medals in Tokyo. Featherweight Lin Yu-Ting from Chinese Taipei was the best all round female boxer on display in Jordan. Not only was she fantastic at long range but she could dig in hurtful body shots up close and there was a real snap and authority on her work. China’s Li Qian prevailed at middleweight and will be right in the mix. China’s Chang Yuan will have gained much confidence from winning at flyweight and also defeating Mary Kom and the welterweight pairing of Chen Nien-Chin and Gu Homg contested the final and have form going in with China’s Gu winning by the way.
Local support almost always give home athletes a real boost and that was certainly the case with the Jordanian boxers with the Iashaish brothers playing starring rolls. Featherweight Mohamm Abdelaziz Mohammad Alwadi reaching the final was a terrific result and to qualify for the Olympics at 34 years of age is a remarkable achievement. It was an up and down few days for Thailand who sent a squad of youth and experience but Thitisan Panmod really was the shining light. The 19-year-old fought brilliantly to defeat Shakhobidin Zoirov and the final was an unfortunate finale. Chatchai Butdee pulled out a performance when required and Atichai Phoemsap is young enough to come again.
It was a tough competition for Japan’s men with Sewon Okazawa the only male to qualify and actually their best chance of medals are with the women. Tsukimi Namiki is an excellent all round talent and was unlucky not to win her flyweight final and Sena Irie avenged her loss to Nesthy Petecio and has a chance of a medal at featherweight. The Philippines would have been hoping for more than 2 boxers qualifying but Eumir Marcial is a top contender at middleweight and prevailed in a superb bout with Abilkhan Amankul in the final. Irish Magno powered her way to qualification in a box off and Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio are good enough to come through the world qualifier if it goes ahead.
The 3 hidden gems to emerge from the tournament were Iran’s Daniyal Shahbakhsh, Australia’s Paolo Aokuso and Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Duong. Shahbakhsh is a real sharp shooter with spite in his punches and easily overcame Rex Tso in a box off and at just 19 there is a bright future for him. Aokuso caused the first notable upset dumping out world silver medallist Dilshod Ruzmetov and his hand and foot speed make him an intriguing prospect. Nguyen proved to be a real puncher and his 1 round demolition job on Chatchai Butdee was a real shocker.
Finally the fight of the tournament was undoubtedly the men’s (63kg) final between Zakir Safiullin and Elnur Abduraimov which was an absolute war and is definitely worth checking out.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
The saga between AIBA and the IOC shows no signs of coming to an end and it was announced that the IOC Executive Board have frozen planning for the boxing competition for the Tokyo Olympics including the qualifying process and ticket sales.
An inquiry has been launched into AIBA’s ability to host the boxing competition and to assess whether the various “significant concerns” expressed by the IOC have been properly addressed to their satisfaction. The inquiry will be headed by Executive Board member Nenad Lalovic and IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell stated that the inquiry would take place over the next few months with the aim to have a definitive decision on boxing’s future at the next Board Executive meeting in Lausanne next June.
For the first time Gafur Rakhimov was directly mentioned by the IOC regarding their concerns along with AIBA’s inability to open or maintain a bank account in Switzerland.
Despite the promises of IOC President Thomas Bach that there will be a boxing competition in Tokyo, the ruling only heaps more uncertainty onto proceedings and raises a number of questions such as:
If indeed boxing does keep its Olympic place and the decision is made next June, is barely 15 months enough time to carry out the necessary qualifying tournaments?
Given the ever decreasing guarantees of Olympic participation will there be a mass exodus of fighters choosing to turn professional?
If AIBA is suspended will there be a huge split between the federations which would badly damage the integrity of the sport?
What happens to the allotted qualifying spots from the World Series of Boxing?
Finally what happens to the next 2 men’s world championships which have been awarded to Sochi and Delhi which surely both countries would have budgeted for?
Whatever the outcome and the answers to these various questions, unfortunately the athletes and us fans can do nothing more than wait as 2019 really is a defining moment for amateur boxing.
By Marcus Bellinger (@marcusknockout)
The last couple of years have been turbulent times for amateur boxing with scandals and squabbles completely overshadowing any action that has taken place in the ring. Expulsion from the Tokyo Olympics is now a real possibility as the sport is now at a critical tipping point and arguably the most defining phase in its illustrious history. Before we get into the wide ranging ramifications here is a brief timeline of events that have lead us to this point for those who haven’t kept up to date or have simply got lost with the goings on.
The boxing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio was marred by controversial judging decisions with all 36 officials and referees suspended for alleged bout-fixing and it was clear changes needed to be made. After much wrangling and bitter infighting long time AIBA president CK Wu was forced out last November due to allegations of financial mismanagement within the organisation. Gafur Rakhimov, described by the US Treasury as “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals” was installed as interim president in January. Rakhimov as strenuously denied the claims but by now the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were showing concern.
An important report from AIBA regarding governance and reforms were submitted in April but IOC president Thomas Bach stated in May
“This report shows some progress and goodwill but still lacks execution and substance in some areas,”
“Therefore we retain our right to exclude boxing from Tokyo 2020.”
Further controversial judging verdicts blighted this year’s Asian Games in Jakarta with a couple of team officials escorted out of the arena with AIBA promising to reintroduce an appeals process. The crisis dramatically deepened at the beginning of October as Gafur Rakhimov was announced as the only presidential candidate at the AIBA congress in Moscow on November 2 and 3 with Serik Konakbayev supposedly not receiving enough support from the federations and not submitting this support within the stated deadline. Konakbayev, the head of the Asian Boxing Confederation (ASBC) has launched an appeal to the court of Arbitration for Sport claiming that his candidacy should be allowed to stand under Swiss law as the Sep 23 deadline was a Sunday therefore not a working day. The outcome of the CAS appeal should be known on October 30 and in the meantime Konakbayev has been allowed to continue campaigning. The IOC have made it abundantly clear that if Rakhimov is elected that boxing’s future at the Tokyo games is in real jeopardy. Rakhimov had stood firm but has softened his stance in recent times and has said he would step aside if necessary.
In a startling release on October 3, the IOC Executive Board stated
“The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) today expressed its ongoing extreme concern with the grave situation within the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and its current governance.” “These include the circumstances of the establishment of the election list and the misleading communication within the AIBA membership regarding the IOC’s position.
“Such behaviour is affecting not just the reputation of AIBA and boxing but of sport in general. “Therefore, the IOC reiterates its clear position that if the governance issues are not properly addressed to the satisfaction of the IOC at the forthcoming AIBA congress, the existence of boxing on the Olympic programme and even the recognition of AIBA as an international federation recognised by the IOC are under threat.
“At the same time, we would like to reassure the athletes that the IOC will – as it has always done in such situations and is currently doing at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 – do its upmost to ensure that the athletes do not suffer under these circumstances and that we will protect their Olympic dream.
Pretty damming words and anyone who had underestimated the seriousness of the situation should now be left in no doubt. Whilst the last part of the statement referring to the athletes not suffering and Olympic dreams being kept alive is well meaning but if AIBA were to be expelled then organising the various continental championships, World Series of Boxing which has Olympic places and the other qualifiers would be an unwanted headache for the IOC and seems pretty farfetched. Rumours have swirled of a professional body being put in charge of this process if necessary but of course nothing official has been confirmed.
The funding or at least part of it, for most federations around the world hinges on Olympic participation so if the worst were to happen and boxing is kicked off the Tokyo roster then the very grassroots of the sport will be directly affected and future generations could be lost to other sports. Every 4 years the Olympics acts as a shop window, not only for amateur boxing itself with worldwide coverage available but the boxers themselves who first have dreams of reaching the podium but then afterwards securing a big professional contract. Winning an Olympic medal isn’t the be all and end all as showing some charisma or a style that maybe more suited to the professional ranks can be enough to seal a lucrative deal with Michael Conlan, Errol Spence and Oscar Valdez being 3 good examples of this in recent times.
Without Olympic boxing fighters will be turning pro at a financial disadvantage and displaying their skills on such a major platform also gives them a taster of possible future big nights in the professional arena. Of course turning professional isn’t an option for everyone with Cuba being the obvious example with fighters having to defect from the country which is often a harrowing process.
From an Asian prospective we’ve seen numerous Uzbek and Kazak pugilists transition over to the professional side of the sport in recent months but make no mistake about it, their success is completely down to the heavy investment in the amateur programme that has made both countries the powerhouses in amateur boxing along with Cuba. Given the deep love and passion Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan could probably soak up a lost Olympics but a drain in talent to the pros would surely be inevitable at least in the near future.
Fighters from the Philippines and Thailand often benefit from more financial stability by staying amateur as pro boxing in both nations can be a lottery at times. The reputation of amateur boxing in Japan has taken a battering in 2018 with president of the JABF Akira Yamane forced to resign due to allegations of misappropriation of funds to boxers and gang ties. If the once in a lifetime opportunity to campaign in a home Olympics were to be snatched away then the public’s view of the sport would only further sour and all at a time when the land of the rising sun is producing elite young talent by the truck load.
Mongolia, which time and time again punches above its weight for such a small nation would almost certainly lose all its top stars and would need time to try and rebuild. Arguably the most affected member of the continent would be India, whilst making huge strides in the last 2 years at all levels, with no pro scene to speak of it would be an uncertain future for the many gifted boxers and the potential growth in one of the 2 most populated nations on earth could severely regress.
Finally the biggest impact of no Olympic boxing in Tokyo would be on women’s boxing at all levels. Despite making solid progress over the last several years the biggest issue in women’s professional boxing is a lack of depth at another 2 or 3 Olympic cycles is the integral ingredient for remedying this. It’s highly unlikely that Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams would have been signed to professional contracts without their performances at London and Rio respectively and the Olympics is an essential gateway to attempt to inspire young girls to take up the sport and without it women’s boxing could go back decades.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features