London: As soon as the adverse verdict against Vijender Singh was out on Monday night, B.I. Fernandez, technical coach of the boxing squad, was up from his seat, flapping his arms in agitated protest even as Indian fans booed the judges.
Singh, bronze medallist at Beijing in 2008 in the middle-weight category, and the poster boy of Indian boxing, had looked in impressive form in the earlier rounds to raise hopes of an encore in London. A victory in the quarter-finals would have assured Singh of at least a bronze but the judges ruled 17-13 in favour of his rival, Abbos Atoev, leaving the Indian contingent aggrieved.
Opinion on the verdict was mixed; some experts thought Singh was lax after drawing the first round 3-3 and gave away too much in the second and third rounds; some believed he had done enough to score a marginal win. Upset as they were, the Indians did not lodge a protest this time.
A few days earlier, they had been rebuffed by CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sports) when they had lodged an appeal to re-review the decision that had cost Vikas Krishan his bout against American Errol Spence in the 69 kg category. The CAS authorities said in a statement, “There is no provision in the AIBA Technical and Competition Rules allowing for an appeal against the decision of the competition jury in relation to a protest. The decision of the competition jury is final and cannot be appealed.”
Knocked out: Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan (in red) during his win over Vijender Singh of India in the middle-weight boxing quarterfinals on Monday. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP
India’s chef de Mission Muralidharan Raja said, “We are sad, disappointed and deeply hurt, but we are not pursuing the matter further.”
The experience probably prevented the Indian contingent from raising issue about Singh’s bout. This did not stop sports minister Ajay Maken from tweeting Tuesday morning that “Vijender fought well. But lost narrowly. Do not understand scoring”.
In a sense, this captures the core of the controversies surrounding boxing at the Olympics.
While dismay over some decisions—notable the review against Krishan and the surprise defeat of Sumit Sangwan—is not misplaced, it would be churlish to believe that the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) is working against India. On the contrary AIBA, looking for new markets to develop the sport, sees great potential in India, more so after Singh’s success at Beijing and the rising popularity of the sport through a plethora of fighters emerging from Bhiwani and the North East capable of winning medals at international events. Including India (through Mumbai Fighters) in the World Series Boxing was a step further in giving boxing in India a fillip.
In the old system, judges would award a point to a boxer by pressing an electronic button. If three of the five judges did this, within a second of each other, a point would accrue to a boxer. The bug in this system was that if at least two judges could be “bought”, the bout was easily fixed.
In the new system, the computer totals up all the punches registered by the judges and awards boxers points out of 10 after each round. The score is based on an average of three of the five judges, with no time limit of how long a judge can keep pressing the scoring button. Judges don’t know which bout they will officiate in till within 10 minutes of its start.
The purpose of the new system was to make things fairer and more robust since professional boxing is to be introduced at the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but from all accounts it appears to have gone in the other direction, largely because a judge can keep his finger on the button for any length of time, distorting the scoring.
This has shown up in some truly cock-eyed results that have left several boxers distraught, fans confused, and experts riled. Indeed, Teddy Atlas, renowned US boxing commentator, said after the first few bouts that he would like to “smash the scoring consoles with a hammer”.
That might not be necessary four years from now since the new system is forced to go under review considering the avalanche of criticism. For the London Games, though, this is purely rhetorical.
Ayaz Memon writes a fortnightly column in Mint, Beyond Boundaries.
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