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Monday, June 14, 2021

Explained: Why Panghal’s loss at Asian Championships has forced an AIBA probe

Panghal’s loss at Asian championships has again brought focus on governance issues in AIBA, as well as the subjectivity of the 10-point-must system.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 10, 2021 7:36:26 am
Amit PanghalPanghal lost the gold medal in a close contest last Tuesday, following which the Indian contingent lodged a protest against the decision that was not accepted by the jury.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) has called an “immediate investigation” into the judging at the Asian Championships in Dubai, to find out if “any incorrect decisions were taken due to lack of competence, manipulation or corruption”.

The statement comes in the wake of Indian flyweight Amit Panghal’s split-decision defeat in the final to reigning Olympic and World champion Shakobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan. Panghal lost the gold medal in a close contest last Tuesday, following which the Indian contingent lodged a protest against the decision that was not accepted by the jury.

“This bout was ours and the coaches also said the same. Nobody protests without a reason,” Panghal told The Indian Express upon the contingent’s return to India.

Santiago Nieva, Indian boxing high-performance director, told this paper, “This time Amit deserved the decision. The second round was pretty clear (for Amit). The third round was closer but still in our favour. Even the first was close.”

The incident has again brought focus on governance issues in AIBA, as well as the subjectivity of the 10-point-must system.

What did AIBA say?

“AIBA is aware of potential issues and allegations concerning the judging of certain bouts at the Asian Boxing Championships held in Dubai,” an AIBA statement read. “AIBA takes such allegations very seriously. After liaising with several National Boxing Federations, AIBA anticipates the Refereeing and Judging Committee will conduct an immediate investigation into the work of all relevant appointed officials and report their findings to the AIBA Disciplinary Committee as soon as possible, to determine whether there is a case to answer or not.

“If so, the Disciplinary Committee will empower an immediate independent expert review, to determine whether any incorrect decisions were taken due to lack of competence, manipulation or corruption… A full independent investigation of previous issues, including the Rio 2016 tournament, is being commissioned. Any officials found to have contributed to unfair fights will become permanently ineligible to serve at AIBA competitions.”

Have there been such allegations before?

At the 2018 Women’s World Championships held in New Delhi, Bulgarian boxer Stanimira Petrova and her coach Petar Lesov accused the judges of corruption after a defeat to India’s Sonia Chahal, and were expelled from the tournament.

In May 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended recognition to AIBA — stripping the body of the right to run the boxing tournament at the Tokyo Olympics — following longstanding concerns regarding finance, governance, ethics, and refereeing and judging.

This was a result of an IOC investigation amid concerns over possible match-fixing at the 2016 Rio Olympics. AIBA sidelined all 36 referees and judges used in Rio after controversy surrounding the new ‘10-point-must’ scoring system with allegations by some beaten boxers that they were robbed of victory.

Ireland’s Michael Conlan — who turned professional after a controversial defeat to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin in the bantamweight quarterfinal — was one of the most vocal critics and said: “They’re f**king cheats. I’ll never box for AIBA again, they’re cheating b****rds, they’re paying everybody.”

What has AIBA done since then?

On May 26, AIBA declared itself debt-free, including from the $10 million owed to an Azerbaijan company, and also announced an independent investigation into allegations of “past judging corruption.”

The settlement of the loan was an election promise by Russian administrator Umar Kremlev, who was appointed AIBA president last December.

IOC last commented on AIBA’s governance issues in October 2020, when President Thomas Bach said, “We have received the report of the monitoring group. I can summarise that we are very worried about the lack of progress with regard to the governance reforms of AIBA.”

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What is the 10-point-must scoring system?

According to the 10-point-must system, each of the five judges awards 10 points to the boxer deemed to have won the round. The boxer judged to have lost the round gets a lower number: 9 denotes a “close round”, 8 in case of a “clear winner” and 7 if the opponent has shown “total dominance” (10-9 scores are the most common).

If it sounds subjective, that’s because it is. The judging criteria are equally vague. Boxers are scored on the basis of “number of quality blows on target area,” “domination of the bout by technical and tactical superiority” and “competitiveness”.

An AIBA video from 2017 attempts to expand upon the criteria. The quality of the blows should decide if the quantity is equal. A winning boxer should have displayed ‘ring superiority’, ‘controlled the bout’ and ‘neutralised the opponent’s skills’. A boxer should also ‘show initiative’, ‘strong desire to compete’ and ‘overcome inferior conditions.’

So a judge is expected to keep count of the punches, the quality of said punches as well as monitor the boxers’ desire to compete, ring superiority and bout control, and score the round in its entirety within 15 seconds of its ending.

How were bouts scored earlier?

The 10-point-must system was the norm till the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where one of the biggest scoring controversies took place. Light middleweight and future pro-boxing great Roy Jones Jr lost to Park Si-Hun 3-2 despite greatly outpunching the South Korean. Three of the five judges in that bout were banned for life and Park later told AP, “I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

AIBA then debuted an “improved” computerised scoring system at the 1989 world championships. Five judges pressed buttons when they believed a boxer had ‘scored’ a hit on the opponent’s head or body above the belt with a marked part of the glove. The scoring system counted a point if three or more judges scored a hit within one second of each other. Total points determined the winner and ties were determined by who took the lead with style.

Why was the computerised scoring scrapped?

To encourage fighters to win with style!

Announcing the decision to discontinue the computerised scoring system after the 2012 London Games, former AIBA president Ching-Kuo Wu told Boxing News, “The current scoring system is based on the punches (landed) so the judge has no other way to judge the boxer. Ten-points-must is comprehensive, with the style of the boxer and their fighting spirit and also the score. At the moment, there’s no way to judge these boxers as performers, showing their style. Muhammad Ali, why is he (great)? Because of his style.”

Under the computerised system, bouts were decided simply by contact, often turning into sparring sessions that put punch volume above technique. Body shots and combinations were of lesser significance. And if a boxer knew he/she was ahead going into the last round, he/she would engage in a game of tag, evading and running to keep opponents from landing clean.

The idea was that switching back to the 10-point-must system would also help attract the casual fight fans due to familiarity with the rules and the aggressive nature of bouts.

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