Talented boxers find their careers in jeopardy because of archaic rules
The Asian Games, and more specifically the sport of boxing, was shamed when the judges, in the most surprising of decisions, denied India’s Sarita Devi a place in the final. Devi, in tears and shock, was left wondering what else she needed to do to make it to the gold medal bout at the Incheon Asian Games. Her husband went a step ahead and suggested that the bout was fixed in favour of the Korean boxer. His sentiments can hardly be dismissed as a rant, because the difference between the two competitors was such that even the commentators, who generally try and remain neutral, seemed at a loss of words when the verdict was awarded to the Korean.
Sarita Devi, who was all over Park Jina in the third round, lost out to some inexplicable decisions, drawing attention, yet again, to the fundamentally flawed nature of judgment in boxing. And India’s appeal, as was expected, was turned down because according to the new AIBA rules enforced just a month back, you can’t challenge the decision of the judges. Devi, distraught, tried to return her medal standing on the podium, an action that may have resulted in her being suspended by AIBA, world Boxing’s governing body.
Boxing, it must be said, is a repeat offender. And Sarita Devi, as we have seen, wasn’t alone. Devendro Singh Laishram, by far the better boxer in his bout against the Korean in his quarter- final, also received a dubious decision. The Mongolians too were dismayed with these going ons, and even issued a statement saying the standard of judging has been very poor at the Incheon Games. The moot question is whether the AIBA will wake up and take notice, or will such arbitrary judgments continue to shame boxing in the future as well? Will there be any remedial steps taken or will fair play, so very central to the games ethic, continue to be ignored? Will the tears of Sarita Devi, caused part by the inefficiency of the Indian administrators at Incheon, have no relevance in the long term?
Host boxers getting an unfair advantage have become a norm in boxing competitions, in multi-national events. At London 2012, Nicola Adams, Britain’s poster girl and a clear crowd favourite, looked second best to the Chinese Ren CanCan, and yet was declared the winner by a unanimous verdict. Savanah Marshall, yet another British boxer, also looked second best against her opponents, but received favour from the judges.
The new boxing rules are such that the spectators, unlike in other body contact sports like wrestling, judo or taekwondo, don’t get to see the points being scored by the boxers. It is only at the end of three rounds for men and four rounds for women, that the three holy men choose the better of the two fighters. Such subjectivity, it is inevitable, will lead to corruption and heartburn. If there are specific rules as to when a point is awarded and if the judges have electronic machines to keep awarding points, one wonders why spectators should have to wait for a round to end to check who scored more? If points are awarded during the bout itself, the chance of bias can be eliminated. For example, when Sarita Devi was landing one body blow after another it would have been glaring to see no points being awarded if the scoring pattern in boxing was similar to that of freestyle wrestling. In a system where points are awarded in a continuous fashion, judges too, are bound to be more accountable.
Finally, to note that a review of the judgment isn’t allowed is the most surprising of all rules. It gives absolute power to the judges, because they know that whatever they do is sacrosanct and can’t be overturned. It means there is no scope for a judge to be pulled up even if he has made a serious mistake like what occurred in the Sarita Devi bout. And as the age old saying goes, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts, absolutely.” Only if AIBA recognizes this at the earliest, will boxing be better off in the future •