The shocker of a decision that went against L Sarita Devi in Incheon on Tuesday is the latest scoring controversy to hit boxing. And it certainly won’t be the last.
Such scandals have been as much a part of the sport as bloodied noses, hooks to the gut and grazed cheekbones. Indeed, one of those who reportedly commiserated with India’s Cuban coach BI Fernandes was Park Si-Hun. Boxing aficionados will remember Si-Hun, now coach of the Korean boxing team, as the gold medal ‘winner’ in the light middleweight category at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In what is regarded as one of the most blatant examples of corrupt judges favouring a host nation’s boxer, Si-Hun won the fight against Roy Jones Jr. of the USA in a 3-2 decision, although scoring indicated Jones had landed 86 punches to 32. It later emerged that three of the judges had been “wined and dined” by the Korean authorities. Si-Hun in fact apologised to Jones and told him he hadn’t won the fight — just like he did to Fernandes yesterday on behalf of his ward Ji-Na Park.
The Jones-Si-Hun bout forced boxing’s world body AIBA to change the scoring system. For what its worth, AIBA has routinely modified the rules to try and reduce the number of fans who disagree with a call, and boxers who cry foul. The pro-style 10-point must system was junked and a computerised system brought in its place. The judges scorecards were picked to eliminate extremes of scoring. The pro-style scoring system was recently brought back again.
More things change…
Yet, over the years, the calls of corrupt practices and fixed fights haven’t been silenced. Boxers have routinely benefitted from home advantage. And it isn’t just amateur boxing, where the financial stakes are low, where scoring has been called into question. Even the highest level of pro boxing, where promoters have an interest in ensuring the audience doesn’t feel cheated, routinely see strange results.
There is a simple explanation for all of this. Boxing, at its heart, is a subjective sport. The referee making the call is human and will make mistakes. Of the scoring criteria in boxing namely clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship and defense, the last two are particularly vague and vary from individual to individual. If much of the bout happens across the judge or if much of the punching is close in, the scoring will be all over the place. Regardless of the training a judge undergoes, there’s no stopping one from willingly favour a particular boxer or simply, like a cricket umpire, from having a horrible day at the office. Indeed there have been no shortage of scoring scandals in gymnastics or ice skating — where scoring is similarly subjective — although admittedly the intensity of the protests in these non-contact sports is far less voluble.