LAUSANNE, Switzerland, June 1 – Professional boxers can compete at the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the sport’s governing body ruled in a landmark decision on Wednesday.
Meeting at an extraordinary congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, 95 percent of the AIBA delegates voted in favour of the controversial move, an AIBA statement said.
“This is a momentous occasion for AIBA, for Olympic Boxing, and for our sport as a whole, and represents another great leap forward in the evolution of boxing,” AIBA chief Wu Ching-Kuo said.
But the potentially revolutionary decision is unlikely to see boxing’s biggest names enter the Olympic ring in Rio.
For most professionals, like former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, it is already too late to take part in a qualifying contest. The last tournament is in Venezuela in July.
In an interview with AFP, Wu described Wednesday’s historic vote as “a first step”, adding that among the 28 sporting disciplines represented in Rio, boxing was the only one with restrictions on professional athletes.
Wu has aggressively supported the move, arguing that the distinction between amateurs and professionals had become increasingly arbitrary.
The admission of professional basketball to the Olympics in time for the 1992 Games in Barcelona has helped make men’s basketball one of the most hotly-anticipated events of the Games.
– Tough criticism –
There is a rich history of fighters making their name at the Olympics before moving on to have groundbreaking professional careers, including Muhammad Ali, who won gold at the Rome Games in 1960, when he was still known by his birth name, Cassius Clay.
But letting those who have already turned professional fight at the Games has faced some resistance, including from former gold medallist and world heavyweight title holder Lennox Lewis, who said it would be “preposterous” to let professionals into the same ring as amateurs.
Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson last month judged the proposed move as “ridiculous” and “stupid”, condemning the plan as a bid “to monetise Olympic boxing”.
But the announcement has already won some early supporters.
British boxer Amir Khan on Wednesday hailed the decision and said he would love to represent the country of his parents’ birth, Pakistan.
Khan, born and raised in Bolton, England, won a silver medal in the lightweight category of the 2004 Athens Olympics before turning professional a year later.
“If I am permitted as per rules and from my promoter then I would love to compete for Pakistan,” he said at a press conference.
Pakistan Boxing Federation secretary Iqbal Hussain told AFP he was thrilled at the prospect of “hero” Khan representing the country.
Philippine legend Manny Pacquiao, who won world titles at eight different weight categories, also hinted he was interested but said this week he would concentrate on his burgeoning political career.
– Doping concerns –
But AIBA will have to answer questions about its dope testing policy in order to satisfy the International Olympic Committee, which is embroiled in a series of doping scandals and is battling to keep drug cheats out of the Rio Games.
A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report found that the AIBA has not carried out any out-of-competition tests in the year ahead of Rio and hardly any in the past three years, the British magazine Private Eye reported.
The report was quoted as saying that AIBA’s actions fell “considerably short” of WADA’s requirements.
WADA spokesman Ben Nichols would not comment directly on the substance of the Private Eye report but confirmed that the agency’s inspection team had given AIBA recommendations aimed at “improving and enhancing” its anti-doping program.
AIBA had started working on the implementation of the recommendations, the WADA spokesman added.
Boxing has undergone major changes in recent years. Women were allowed into Olympic competition in 2012 and headguards will no longer be compulsory from Rio.