'We can't have two winners'

Kishen Narsi... "The perception about the scoring system among many during the London Olympics was incorrect."-

Boxing made news at the 2012 Olympics in London for controversies relating to refereeing, scoring and ethics. The International Boxing Association, AIBA, responded to one such controversy by sending Ishanguly Meretnyyazov of Turkmenistan, the referee of the 56 kg bout between Satoshi Shimizu (Japan) and Magomed Abdulhamidov (Azerbaijan), home for ‘favouring’ the latter.

In another controversial incident, Vikas Krishan’s 13-11 victory against Errol Spence in the 69 kg division was reversed by the jury in response to a protest by the Americans over technical fouls committed by the Indian.

There were controversies outside the ring too, and a technical official from Azerbaijan, Aghajan Abiyev, was expelled for breaching the Code of Conduct that forbids an official, who is assigned boxing duties, from communicating with his national federation during the Games.

Kishen Narsi of India, an International Technical Official who was assigned duties as Chairman of the Jury for some bouts at the London Olympics, explains the reasons for the collective outrage against the controversial decisions in a chat with Sportstar. And in his capacity as an AIBA Executive Council member, he sheds light on the move to make boxing in Olympics more action-packed by doing away with head guards for men.

Excerpts:

Question: Boxing in Olympics is known for controversies over judges’ decisions, starting with the 1988 Seoul Olympics. What do you think of the outrage over these controversial decisions and the perception of the boxers about referees today?

Answer: In my opinion, it all depends on the person leading the federation. Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu is committed to the Olympics ideal, having been on the International Olympic Committee himself for so many years. He is a very dedicated individual who believes in giving both the boxers in the ring an equal opportunity to win. That is why AIBA had these ‘Road to London’, ‘Road to Dreams’ and other such programmes.

As part of the AIBA programme, boxers from underdeveloped nations were taken to London a month in advance where they trained at the best of facilities, got nutritious diet and other inputs required to compete at the Olympics.

There is a Code of Conduct in place for the jury members, referees, judges and other international officials. They are not allowed to mix with the people of the national federation; they are isolated. This is only to instil one thing in the officials: that they have to be honest with the boxers in the ring. It is sort of drilled into them that unfair decisions are not to be made. Cheating and political decisions are not acceptable. The system followed in the London Olympics was such that a judge who was not in sync with his four other fellow-judges was automatically weeded out.

The scoring system in the London Olympics was known to everyone. How do you explain the sense of outrage expressed by most with regard to certain decisions?

The perception about the scoring system among many was incorrect. Even boxers involved in the sport and commenting on television like Amir Khan expressed viewpoints based on a wrong perception. In response to his opinion on BBC, this was pointed out to him the day after the programme. All he had to say in reply was that he was not aware.

Boxing has a workable system that is clear and based on a universally acceptable pattern. When making a judgement involving close bouts, there will always be two viewpoints. Unfortunately, one boxer has to be the winner and the other has to be the loser, but each of them will always presume that he has won. We can’t have two winners.

What is your take on Indian boxers’ performance in the London Olympics?

Every athlete going into the Olympics has certain expectations based on his performance in the qualifying competitions. The drawback in London was the draw. Vijender Singh came up against Abbos Atoev in the quarterfinals. The Uzbek, familiar with the Indian’s boxing style, was aware that by the time the bout reached Round Three Vijender would not fight like a youngster.

Shiva Thapa is young and has the heart of a boxer. He could have gone further on his Olympic debut, but he drew Mexican Oscar Valdez Fierro in the first round. Besides, the 56 kg category had a strong field. Valdez is a talented boxer who was in the same situation four years ago in Beijing, where he drew Olympic gold medallist Enkhbatyn Badar-Uugan first up and was outclassed. Having gone down the road before, the Mexican knew how to tackle another debutant.

Vijender is aware of the reasons for his loss. Shiva, I hope, continues to train the way he prepared for London. Vikas Krishan and Devendro Singh were penalised for technical reasons. Any issue technical in nature can be challenged. I am sure the Indian coaches were aware that Vikas spitting out his gum-shield and Devendro’s attempted head butting were being recorded. Therefore, even if the referee did not see it, there is no escape.

In case of a protest in a close bout, technology comes into the picture and it is possible to go through the action frame by frame. If needed, a frame can be broken down into four parts.

Unlike events such as athletics and weightlifting, Olympic boxing has not been affected by doping controversies. Are boxers more aware of doping dangers, or is it due to the measures taken by the federation?

I wouldn’t say that boxers are fully aware of what is involved. To be frank, the rules of WADA keep changing consistently and various drugs seem to be coming in and going out (of the banned list). We had a very senior doctor, Dr. Nirmolak Singh, as a member of the AIBA Medical Commission, so information available to the federation was of a high level. Now we have another doctor, Dr. T. N. Tamta, on the Medical Commission, so there is a flow of information about what doping is all about. The AIBA is very much aware of the implications and has programmes in place where the Medical Commission advises coaches of all nations about various problems connected with doping. The world federation has a very strict doping policy: every finalist is tested. In addition, six semi-finalists are picked at random for tests. Random testing is also done in the preliminary rounds.

London 2012 was the first Olympics where the World Series Boxing champions were given direct qualification to men’s competition. What is the line of thinking that pits pros (trained to fight longer and without head guards) against amateurs?

There seems to be a misconception that there were 10 direct qualifiers from World Series Boxing. Only five champions from five weight categories were given direct entry. The rules of boxing in both WSB and Olympics are not very different. In WSB, boxers fight five rounds at a time and the speed at which you are boxing is called the spurt pattern. That is the kind of fitness level that exists in boxing. The target area is the same, the gloves are the same and the scoring blows are the same. The only difference is that in WSB, they box without head guards. You must have read on the AIBA website that the world body is already thinking in terms of doing away with head guards after the London Olympics for the elite men. There is no fear factor involved as far as boxers are concerned, head guards or no head guards.

Boxing was getting a bad name due to certain reasons, especially medical. The AIBA realised the need to inform the general public and parents that boxing is safer than many other sports. Incidents have happened on the soccer field in England, for example, but the sport continues to be promoted. So is the case with body contact sport in the Olympics.