IN April 1989, the International Basketball Federation (better known for its acronym Fiba) lifted its prohibition on professional basketball players, paving the way for the entry of superstars from the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the Olympics. When the popularity of basketball in the quadrennial meet hit the roof, other sports have followed suit.
Don't look now, but the head honchos of the International Amateur Boxing Association (Aiba) are seriously moving for the inclusion of pro boxers in the Olympics, and they are talking as early as the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The way Aiba officials envision it, the mere thought of the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. strutting their fistic stuff in the Olympics is enough to instantly elevate the sport's status in the Olympics.
Boxing contests were included in the Ancient Olympics Games as early as 668 B.C., when competitors wore leather straps on their hands and mauled each other to kingdom come. The sport was introduced in the modern Olympics in 1904 with American boxers dominating all the weight classes. Over the years, the weight limits for the classes have changed and in 1952 bronze medals for losing semifinalists were finally awarded. Throughout its history, though, Olympic boxing has adhered to amateurism.
However, the Aiba recently introduced the World Series of Boxing (WSB), a tournament that blurred the long-standing delineating lines between amateur and pro boxing. The WSB featured "salaried" amateur boxers who were allowed to retain their Olympic eligibility while competing in the tournament which featured no headgears and observed pro boxing-style scoring (complete with three judges). The WSB was seen as a precursor to the eventual introduction of pro boxers on the Olympic stage.
The Aiba's thrust to introduce pro boxers in the Olympics is seen as one in conjunction with the Olympics' motto of sending only the very best in the competition. A thought-provoking view comes from Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (Abap) executive director Ed Picson, who sees the move as a form of payback.
"As for the Aiba Professional Boxing (APB), the motivations seem proper enough. Aiba feels the professional ranks have been raiding our (amateur) ranks long enough, benefiting from the training and honing that amateur boxing has been giving its boxers. It is high time, according to Aiba, that the association reap the benefits of its own efforts," Picson told Spin.ph.
"Also, the Aiba idea is to take care of the boxer 'ab initio,' as you (this writer) lawyers would say, up to his retirement. With APB, it is envisioned that opportunistic promoters and managers will be done away with. The program would have Aiba and the national federations (in our case Abap) act as promoter and manager, respectively. Aiba will pay the boxers' purses directly to the boxer with no deductions except taxes where required. The federation pays the boxer a stipulated monthly salary whether he fights or not (he is, however, guaranteed a minimum of four fights a year; more if he keeps winning). In turn, the federation gets a percentage of the boxers' earnings, but such percentage will not be taken from the boxers' monies."
The Aiba's long-term "plan" for the boxers, as essayed by Picson, arguably explains why the incumbent heads of pro boxing's top organizations (the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and the World Boxing Organization) have been very vocal in opposing the entry of pro boxers to the Olympics. For one, they see it as a threat to their existence.
"The World Boxing Council (WBC) and its president José Sulaimán strongly object to the steps taken by the Aiba to organize professional boxing tournaments under the name WSB," said the WBC in an official press release.
"According to Aiba/WSB, only boxers registered in their tournament will be eligible to compete at the Olympic Games to the exclusion of any boxers affiliated with any other organization. All boxers worldwide eligible under current Olympic Games’ requirements, regardless of their country of origin or the organization with which they are affiliated, should have the same opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games. The WBC says Aiba/WSB’s actions clearly constitute an attempt to establish a monopoly and a restraint of trade."
As can be deduced from the WBC's statement, it's all about one entity encroaching on another's territory. Then again, serious safety concerns have also been raised about the possible arrival of pro boxers in the Olympics.
When NBA players first took part in Olympic basketball, they battered opposing teams into smithereens. In Olympic boxing, a similar domination by the pro boxer could lead to far more dire consequences. A guy like Pacquiao, a former eight-division world pro champion, will not only win the gold medal handily against a relatively inexperienced foe, but he could end up killing the poor fellow.
The move to introduce pro boxers in the Olympics figures to make for a hot topic. Expect the debates to reach feverish levels as the Aiba intensifies its bid to win the vote of the International Olympic Committee.