We were hoping for a rebirth. Instead, we got another robbery.
On a day when I had hoped to write that three-time heavyweight gold medalist Teofilo Stevenson was a greater Olympian than swimmer Michael Phelps, boxing continued to trash its own legends and any chance at credibility with a referee and judges who didn’t even bother to wear ski masks in the attempted heist Wednesday of Japan’s Satoshi Shimizu at the London Games.
No reason to hide. The undisguised spree has gone on, without interruption and without an apology, since 1988. That’s when judges in Seoul robbed Roy Jones Jr. of a gold medal that went to South Korea’s Park Si Hun. The theft was subsequently proven when the judges’ fingerprints were found throughout files kept by East Germany’s old secret police.
Yet, the Seoul scandal was allowed to stand. Jones never got the medal he rightfully won and Olympic boxing never got the message that it was time to clean up its act. Instead of gold, the International Olympic Committee gave Jones a conciliatory trinket. The IOC awarded him something called an Olympic Order, which didn’t include an order for the judges to pose for mug shots.
It was outrageous 24 years ago, yet as current as Twitter Wednesday while watching Shimizu knock down Magomed Abdulhamidov of Azerbaijan six times in the third round. Somehow, referee Ishanguly Meretnyyazov of Turkmenistan missed all six. It was as if Meretnyyazov thought that Abdulhamidov had slipped on a wet London sidewalk. The bout should have ended there, a stoppage as clear cut as any.
But no, oh-no.
Not only did Meretnyyazov fail. The scorecards, compiled by computer operators posing as judges, did too. Abdulhamidov won a 20-17 decision. The Japanese protested. The decision was reversed. Meretnyyazov was banned from working the rest of the 2012 Games. Boxing’s ruling cartel, AIBA, fired an international technical official.
Yet, no action was reported against the judges. For all we know, they are still there for the next round of outrage between now and the gold-medal bouts on August 11 and 12. With some of the usual suspects still in place, a BBC story about money for medals has re-emerged. In September, the BBC reported that Azerbaijan, host for the World Championships last fall, loaned AIBA $10 million. The payback was reported to be two gold medals for Azerbaijan.
There was an investigation, conducted by AIBA. Surprise, surprise, the cartel dismissed the BBC report. At this point, it’s hard to know where the IOC is in all of this. Then again, it’s hard to know where the acronym was more than two decades ago in the aftermath of a Seoul scandal that still makes Olympic boxing look as if the ring is surrounded by yellow crime tape instead of those traditional ropes. If history is a guide, the IOC is MIA.
There’s an argument that it’s time to just drop boxing from the Olympic program. On the politically-incorrect scale, however, the 2012 introduction of the women makes elimination unlikely. Major endorsement money and media attention for American Marlen Esparza might make it impossible.
The real problem might come from the boxers themselves. The London controversy is fueled by suspicions that the referee and judges acted together in an attempt to fulfill a reported loan that, if accurate, will surely mean that good boxers, like fans, will stay away. In an interview with Jones for the August issue of The Ring, I asked him if he would have fought in the Olympics today.
“If I saw what I went through, I’d say: ‘Hell no, I won’t go,’ ’’ the former pound-for-pound champ said. “No way. You invest too much of your time and yourself to take that chance. I mean not only can they cheat you. They’ll stick to it if they do.’’
Before long, they might have only themselves to stick it to.