Women’s World Championship: With Artificial Intelligence, Richard McLaren aims to reform boxing

McLaren leads the McLaren Global Sport Solutions - an investigative and advisory commitee to the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit - is using voice analytics to detect possible manipulation in bouts by match officials and referees.

Published : Mar 24, 2023 19:24 IST , NEW DELHI - 6 MINS READ

REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE: The Artificial Intelligence software has been put to use at the ongoing Women’s World Championship in New Delhi.
REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE: The Artificial Intelligence software has been put to use at the ongoing Women’s World Championship in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE: The Artificial Intelligence software has been put to use at the ongoing Women’s World Championship in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

The McLaren Global Sport Solutions (MGSS), the independent organisation that has been working as an investigative and advisory body to the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit, is using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool to identify officials who may be at “high risk of possibly manipulating bouts” at the World women’s boxing championships here.

Here, four MGSS personnel are keeping a vigil at the high profile event.

Speaking to Sportstar from his temporary office in California, in the USA, Professor Richard McLaren, the CEO of MGSS, explained the process of onsite monitoring.

He also shared the progress made by the International Boxing Association (IBA), previously known as AIBA, in terms of implementing the recommendations suggested by MGSS – which earlier investigated issues of corruption, manipulation of results and financial mismanagement in the international federation. Excerpts:

Q: What’s the ongoing role of the McLaren team in the IBA’s functioning?

A: Well, the investigations that we carried out are completed and reports for three of them have been made. They’re all on the McLaren Global Sport Solution website. And the role that we now have is, to be the investigative and advisory body to the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit.

Q: What kind of monitoring is your team doing during the World women’s boxing championship in New Delhi?

A: We have four people present on site. They are using a tool. It’s an Artificial Intelligence tool. What it does is carry out voice analytics. So, we have our people onsite who administer the voice analytics. That’s done by a series of questions which the person would answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and then the voice analytics records that information because through a telephone. And the questions are asked in their native language. The intelligence system analyzes the voice response by measuring functions, cognitive functions of the brain. We get a report back indicating whether, based on the questions asked, the person is a high risk. What that means in a moment is that it gives you a read-out of different levels of risk. What’s important is it’s just a tool. Then if somebody becomes high risk or is shown to be high risk, then we have to go and speak with them because there can be some explanations beyond the fact that they are a risk.

Why are we doing that? The referees and judges and international technical officials come from different places all over the world and are accredited by the IBA. The refereeing and judging in boxing is very subjective, and in the past, and particularly at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, there have been problems with manipulation of refereeing, evaluation of a bout. And what we are doing with the monitoring is trying to identify anybody who may be at high risk of possibly manipulating a bout. With the use of this tool and our old interviewing skills and background checks, we can ask for people who we think are at high risk of possibly manipulating. We haven’t decided that they are actually doing it. They would stand down and not be an official at the competition. So that’s the primary purpose of our team being here.

We also have a secondary function and that is if some problem emerges, which it has happened in other championships in the past, we have investigators on site who can immediately gather information, interview people if that’s required, so that we can deal with whatever the problem is on site.

Now we’re also doing a survey of a few of the boxers with respect to the use of performance enhancing drugs or otherwise known as doping in sports. The whole idea behind that is a pilot project. And we’re using the same artificial intelligence. And that’s solely for informational purposes. There are no consequences from the risk. We are doing this as a pilot project to see the suitability of using our tool in the future in performance enhancing drug situations.

Q: How far has the IBA adopted the recommendations made in your report?

A: There are two parts to my answer. In respect to the investigation work which we’ve done and was completed later last year. They have implemented many, but not all of the recommendations that we’ve made. With respect to our use of the analytics tool, and our onsite observations of what’s going on at the boxing competitions and in the field of play, we have been following every competition where we’ve been present, going right back to the men’s World championships in Belgrade in October 2021. The IBA has received our recommendations, and they’ve implemented them, and we’ve also assisted them in some…policy applications. For example there has been something called as a bout review.

Q: Where is the IBA still lacking in terms of implementing the recommendations?

A: Our view is that they’ve made good progress, accepted and respected the kinds of recommendations that we’ve made. The organisation is changing and developing, so some things that we’ve recommended either haven’t been done or are in progress, but it takes time to make the kind of changes that are necessary, so I’m not concerned that some of our recommendations have not at this point been implemented. But, I would say that most of what we’ve recommended has been very well received by the IBA. Sometimes either the lack of funds or necessities caused by other reasons haven’t allowed to implement everything. But I’m confident that they will, going forward.

Q: Are you very satisfied with the change in culture so far?

A: It’s changing. That sort of change doesn’t happen in a matter of a few months or even a few years, but the culture is changing, and we’re working hard at helping them to ensure that that happens.

Q: Do you think it’ll take some time for the change of culture to trickle down to the national federations?

A: The international federation has responsibility and control over its own international competition, such as the women’s World championships now going on in Delhi. And they have some control already over regional confederations, such as the Asian, European, African etc confederations, which are the umbrella group over the national boxing organisations in Asia, in Africa, Europe and elsewhere. But when it comes to the national level federations, that’s really the responsibility of the continental confederations. While the IBA tries to encourage that all of their policies are implemented by the confederation and that the confederation of the national federations implement them as well, that doesn’t necessarily always happen, but the IBA doesn’t have control of and cannot seek and impose change on national federations. It has to be done at the confederation level.

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