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Explained: How a military grade AI tool is weeding out boxing’s corrupt referees and judges

Two individuals were removed from the officiating pool after being questioned by an automated phone questionnaire, which has been dubbed a tool to put AIBA's "house in order".

By: Express News Service | Mumbai |
Updated: November 9, 2021 7:07:03 am
Two individuals were deemed to not be suitable for the officiating pool after phase one, while two were axed in Belgrade after being flagged as suspicious by the AI tool. (File)

The International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) employed military-approved artificial intelligence voice analysis and cyber technology systems to analyse judges and referees at the recently-concluded men’s World Championships in Belgrade. Two individuals were removed from the officiating pool after being questioned by an automated phone questionnaire, which has been dubbed a tool to put AIBA’s “house in order”.

What was the technology used?

An automated phone questionnaire – using an artificial intelligence voice analysis system – graded officials as low, medium or high risk. No official refused to undergo the process, which measures the cognitive functions through the caller’s responses to questions such as “Have you ever cheated in a boxing event?”

According to the sports integrity expert and AIBA advisor Richard McLaren, the technology “bore no resemblance whatsoever” to a lie detector test and is used in military, diplomatic and insurance sectors by analysing the “cognitive functions of the brain through voice responses”.

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“The investigators and analysts utilise the voice analytical tool to help screen officials,” McLaren was quoted by The Guardian. “It measures the cognitive functions of the brain in the verbal responses and – given pertinent questions – finds whether that person is low risk, medium risk, high risk in terms of being an official at the championships.”

“The technology uses pertinent questions, such as ‘have you ever cheated in a boxing event’. With the use of such questions we measure risk from an individual regarding certain events of manipulation or potential corruption,” McLaren added.

What was the entire vetting process?

The first phase, which began weeks before the tournament in Belgrade, was background research of potential officials using a military-approved cyber technology. The social media profiles, business interests and other red flags were passed along to McLaren’s team. The automated phone questionnaire was part of the second phase, with follow-up interviews.

Two individuals were deemed to not be suitable for the officiating pool after phase one, while two were axed in Belgrade after being flagged as suspicious by the AI tool.

“I think the technology has incredible potential it has to be combined with other work to be effective but it clearly identified problems and protects officiating,” McLaren said at a press briefing on Saturday. “We really appreciate being able to try this at the Championships. I think that this tool will be a big aid to help them put their house in order and I must say we have been given complete cooperation and assistance in running the pilot.”

The 76-year-old claimed that the tool could be a blueprint for other judging sports, adding, “You can’t just rely on it, you need to evaluate the risk and why a particular risk came up high in the system which is why we do the follow-up interviews.”

AIBA also roped in American professional boxing great Roy Jones Jr to support its work during the World Championships. Jones lost the light middleweight gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics to a South Korean boxer in one of the most controversial decisions.

“This is what we’re not used to seeing in amateur boxing. I have been very satisfied with the judging. I have not seen one decision that has been so warp-sided. I haven’t seen one that I thought was corrupt,” Jones Jr said, adding: “It would have been very beautiful to have this technology in that time. However, it’s better late than never.”

What prompted the elaborate screening?

In September, McLaren’s AIBA-commissioned independent investigation exposed bout manipulation at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The report found widespread evidence of “corruption, bribery and the manipulation of sporting results” – with judges giving each other signals at ringside to fix bouts.

McLaren – who exposed state-sponsored doping in Russia and uncovered doping cover-ups in weightlifting in June 2020 – is part of the AIBA’s governance overhaul bid. In 2019, the International Olympic Committee suspended AIBA after a six-month investigation amid concerns regarding the boxing body’s governance, finances and refereeing and judging. IOC’s task force conducted the boxing events at the Tokyo Olympics, and the governing body will soon announce its decision on boxing at Paris 2024 Olympics.

“We are quite concerned because in these two federations (AIBA and International Weightlifting Federation) there are problems of good governance and that is why we are currently monitoring them very closely,” IOC President Bach said last week. “We will make a decision as soon as possible in the interest of the athletes.” AIBA is also on thin ice with IOC due to its decision to organise the World Championships in Belgrade. The Kosovo boxing team was denied entry into Serbia amid tensions between the two neighbouring nations. “It appears that AIBA has not applied the necessary due diligence before allocating this tournament to Belgrade, despite the fact that the IOC has repeatedly advised the International Federations of the necessity of such due diligence,” a statement from IOC read.

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