Why we may not see big name pro boxers at the Rio Olympics

A couple of hurdles remain to be crossed before professional boxers get into the ring in Rio
A couple of hurdles remain to be crossed before professional boxers get into the ring in Rio

EVEN though boxing’s World governing body AIBA has voted to allow ALL professional fighters to take part in the Rio Olympics it remains to be seen whether any of the world’s high profile pro fighters will actually participate.

This controversial project is the brainchild of the President of the AIBA Dr Ching-kuo Wu, the Taiwan born President of the world body.

According to AIBA sources 84 of the 88 delegates at a hastily convened Congress on Wednesday voted in favour of the proposal.

“We approved it and now they can compete,” said Dr Wu.

But a couple of hurdles remain to be crossed before professional boxers get into the ring in Rio.

Firstly, professional boxers have to be nominated by their National Federations to take part. Secondly they have to get through a qualifying tournament scheduled for Venezuela in early July.

There will be 26 Olympics slots available across the ten men’s Olympic divisions at this tournament which was originally due to cater for boxers who qualified via two other competitions, the World Boxing series and the AIBA’s own professional tournament called the APB.

In 2013 AIBA made the first significant rule change in relation to pro boxing when it announced that professional boxers who had fought fewer than 15 times in the pro ranks would be eligible to compete in the Olympics provided they participated in the fully professional AIBA Pro Boxing series.

This series was also open to amateur boxers and Ireland’s David Oliver Joyce and Joe Ward – both of whom will box in Rio – competed, though they didn’t qualify for the Olympics via this specific route.

Since then Dr Wu has been arguing that all professional boxers ought to be eligible to compete at the Olympics given that professionals in other sports such as golf and tennis are allowed to do so.

Self-evidently he has won his argument, though the near unanimous support for his proposal is indicative of the fact that countries, fearful of the repercussions of opposing the move, simply went with the flow.

There were indications at last year’s World championships in Doha that Dr Wu was wooing three of the world’s best known professional boxers, Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Wladimir Klitschko for his ‘pet’ project.

They were his guests in Doha but it is now doubtful whether any of the trio will make it to Rio. 

According to reports from the Philippines last week Pacquiao informed the country’s National Boxing Federation last week that he wasn’t interested in seeking a place on the team for Rio having decided to concentrate on a political career in his native country.

Klitschko has a date with Tyson Fury on July 9 in Manchester in which he bids to retain his world heavyweight title which effectively rules him out of the tournament in South America while Khan, who was a 17-year old when he won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, is recovering from being stopped in his last professional fight against Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas.

The other issue is that the majority of the leading boxing nations have already filled their quota of places in Rio.  

Ireland, for example, has six male boxers qualified for Rio.

The only weight divisions in which Ireland is still seeking spots are light welter, middle, heavy and super heavy and Irish boxers will have a chance to secure places in these weight divisions at a tournament in Baku later this month.

Ironically, there is no shortage of eligible Irish professional boxers in the middleweight category including former World champion Andy Lee – who boxed at the Athens Games - former world silver medallist Jason Quigley - who opted to pursue a professional career in the US rather than bid for a place in Rio - and the recently retired Matthew Macklin.

There are concerns about the safety aspect of the proposals too. Male boxers will not wear protective headgear in Rio and the advisability of pitting an 18-year-old amateur boxer against a seasoned professional in one of the heavier weight divisions is highly questionable.

But Dr Wu has got his way and he will now reap the benefits of the bitter harvest which ensues.