Boxing coaches hopeful over Olympic judging 'skullduggery'

Former Irish head coach Billy Walsh is hopeful the International Olympic Committee (IOC) boxing taskforce will deliver a fair competition at Tokyo 2020. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

AFTER the controversies that dogged the last Olympic Games in Rio, there will be a major focus on boxing judges at Tokyo 2020 – and two top Irish coaches are hopeful the days of potential “skullduggery” are a thing of the past.

In the wake of the 2016 Olympics, the sport's troubled governing body AIBA and all 36 Rio officials were barred from any involvement in the upcoming Games.

A special International Olympic Committee (IOC) taskforce running the Tokyo competition in place of AIBA is eager to win back trust of boxers and international teams by ensuring fair contests and consistent scoring to keep allegations of foul play to a minimum.

New transparency measures have been introduced, such as displaying each judge's scores at the end of each round and independent third-party supervision, vetting and selection of judges and referees.

Irish coach John Conlan, whose son Michael found himself at the centre of the acrimony five years ago following his highly controversial exit to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin, is hopeful there will be no such repeats once the boxing competition gets under way on Saturday.

And Billy Walsh, the former Irish head coach who leads USA into a second Games, also believes the greater transparency will remove the possibility of anything untoward taking place.

“The guys that are running the task force, they’ve been trying to clean it up and their intentions are really good,” said the Wexford man, who saw Gary Russell jr and Mikaela Mayer both come on the wrong side of questionable calls in Rio.

“If there’s a bad decision, hopefully it’ll be highlighted – we won’t have to do what Michael Conlan did. The whole world is watching now, after what happened last time, so I’d like to think there’d be no skullduggery going on.

“You’d hope that if there is a bad decision it’s poor judging rather than anything going on behind the scenes.”

Conlan was part of the coaching team that took Ireland to the European Olympic qualifier in London last year and, upon its post-Covid resumption, in Paris in June.

That event was run by the IOC taskforce, and Conlan says he was impressed with what he saw – and hopes for more of the same in Tokyo.

“I thought the IOC ran a really good tournament in London and Paris - I didn’t see any big dramas.

“The fights we won we deserved to win, the fights we lost…. I never have a real argument if a fight is close. This sport is about perception. Some fights I wished we’d got the decision, but I don’t think unless we won the fight clearly that we deserved to get it.

“All our boxers performed, it was pretty open and transparent, the calibre of the judging could have been a little bit better but that’s what you have – they’re inexperienced guys under a lot of pressure.

“I’m really happy the IOC have taken control of it.”

Walsh, meanwhile, is confident he will be remaining in America for another Olympic cycle leading into Paris 2024 once the Tokyo Games are over.

“Five years is after flying by,” he said.

“We’ve had contract negotiations around the next three years, I’ve agreed that I wanted to stay, they’ve agreed that they want me to stay, so after the Games we’ll have another conversation about it.

“I came here 10 months prior to the Games last time, so you didn’t really have much time to get to know everybody, or to try and implement anything. Now, I have five coaches there, they all know the structure, they’re working as a team. When I came here they were fragmented but now they’re working as a team rather than individuals.”

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