Boxing’s “10-point must” system of scoring is so enslaved to subjective interpretation that it is threatening to get the sport ousted from the Olympics, and cut short the inspirational narrative of women’s boxing at the Games after only two editions. Thirty years since Seoul delivered an Olympics that reeked of blatant corruption when Roy Jones Jr missed out to the home nation’s Park Si-hun amidst calls of “daylight robbery”, the abuse hurled at poor judging has escalated to include the all-encompassing “mafia”. At the women’s World Championships currently underway in Delhi, the trend of questionable judgements in favour of the home boxers continues, even as the sword of eviction from Tokyo 2020 hangs upon the sport.
Unarguably, boxing remains the Olympics’ perennial problem child, and Rio 2016 saw wholescale suspensions of ring officials. The IOC is at the end of its tether. At the heart of the problem is the ambiguous scoring system. In attempting to deal with defensive passivity, the judges are scoring on ambivalent factors like the quality of punches, domination and competitiveness. A pugilist “seen” throwing a flurry of punches in the dying moments of a round might leave a more enduring impression than the opponent whose punches actually connect. Boxing stands on the threshold of a thumbs-down from the IOC even as it tries to lure its best practioners, the professionals, to turn out for the Olympics.
A sport that has long elevated sports writing to literature is on the cusp of being reduced to a spectacle of name-calling and dejection. The great wordsmith, Joyce Carol Oates, who described the ring as a restrainer like an “animal pen” once wrote: “Though highly ritualised, and as rigidly bound by rules, traditions, and taboos as any religious ceremony, it (boxing) survives as the most primitive and terrifying of contests…” Sadly, only the invectives after a biased ruling carry the ring of “primitive and terrifying” now.