I rarely have occasion to praise an alphabet-soup sanctioning body, but big credit is due today to the WBC for announcing on Thursday that they will ban any professional boxer who takes part in the Olympics for two years. We can only hope that the WBA, IBF and WBO will follow.
It’s tough to find an organization so puerile that it leaves the boxing sanctioning bodies occupying the moral high ground, but it comes as no surprise that the International Olympic committee does so. In cooperation with the AIBA (Amateur International Boxing Association), the IOC has paved the way for the potential participation of professional fighters.
This is a cynical grab for money and power and will do nothing to genuinely strengthen either amateur boxing or the professional game. Some fans, who don’t really understand the logistics of either, will compare the situation to boxing with the way that basketball has developed since the debut of the “Dream Team” in 1992.
But when Larry, Magic, Michael and the rest were blowing over-matched amateur squads off the court in 1992, nobody was absorbing potentially fatal head trauma as a result. Moreover, the version of basketball played in the Olympics is not substantially different from the professional game.
Boxing, however, is radically different. High-level professionals fight bouts of 10 or 12 rounds, at three minutes a round. The strategic and technical aspects of an amateur fight are far different. There’s a reason that high-level amateur success doesn’t necessarily translate to the pros and that some elite pros were often mediocre amateurs. The majority of professionals are not going to walk away from pro paychecks for Olympic glory. Aside from money, they simply won’t view three-round exhibitions as a worthwhile competitive test. But some professionals will opt for the Olympics–not the elite professionals, maybe, but perhaps some very good contenders. The result could be very dangerous matchups between fighters of radically different experience levels.
And this will do nothing to improve boxing as a sport. Indeed, it will damage it. The international players who got routed by Team USA in Barcelona were largely as star-struck as the fans in the stands. It further elevated the popularity of a relatively new, mostly American, sport. Today, the number of top pros from around the world has increased, as a direct result.
Boxing is an ancient sport. Versions of it are mentioned in The Iliad, one of humankind’s earliest works of great literature. It’s already internationally popular, with outstanding, world-class talent emerging from every continent and region of the planet.
The status of the amateur version of boxing is largely the same as minor league baseball or NCAA football and basketball. Fans follow it to spot potential stars emerging on the horizon. If it suddenly became possible for minor league teams to bid on above-average hitters or NCAA teams to hire second-tier pros, it would merely weaken both products.
The biggest difference is the nature of boxing itself. As the old boxing heads like to say “you don’t play boxing.” The IOC would be gambling with the futures, even the lives, of young fighters if they allow this farce to transpire.