Want to know how crazy amateur boxing can get? Settle back.
In Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan on Saturday, 40 boxers representing franchises from four cities will contest the semi-finals of AIBA’S inaugural world series, the brainchild of the international body’s president, Dr Ching-Kuo Wu.
When it was announced, it was seen as a significant development, widely applauded as protecting the integrity of amateur boxing, while rewarding boxers for their excellence.
The prizes for the endeavours of these officially amateur boxers are not medals, but $500,000. They wear no headgear, no vests and fight five three-minute rounds, longer fights than many down-the-bill pros get for £200 a go. They fight for the enrichment of themselves and their financial backers, not to mention the glory of Dr Wu, a forward-thinking administrator who pledged to clean up his corrupt and ailing sport when he took over in 2006.
All of the boxers, however, are eligible to compete for their countries in the 2012 Olympics in London. Nobody has voiced an objection to this minor revolution, either inside the sport or in the Olympic movement.
How could they? Very few of the 10,000 competitors gathering in London for the Olympics will get there without benefit of significant subsidies or payments. Many of them – tennis players and footballers – will be multi-millionaires. Olympic shamateurism died a long time ago.
Dr Wu certainly had no qualms about the big shift. In AIBA’S own prospectus, they list the following among benefits of owning a franchise: “Marketing and sale of tickets, catering rights, concessions rights, local sponsorship rights [of] corner posts, ringside banners, boxers’ trunks/robes, round cards, entrance tunnel, interior backdrops; other commercial rights: hospitality, licensing, merchandising, franchise website.” And so on. The list is long.
And watching Dr Wu’s great experiment this weekend, perplexed, will be Great Britain’s head coach, Robert McCracken, who admits he cut short his own glittering amateur career too soon, before going on to fight for the world middleweight title and, over the past decade, guiding the highly successful career of Carl Froch.
How he and his contemporaries would love to have boxed on as amateurs, rather than turning professional prematurely. How they could have done with their own Dr Wu.
So how is Dr Wu helping McCracken and his Great Britain squad just 15 months before the London Olympics? He is threatening McCracken with suspension if he dares to work the corner of his fighters at international tournaments, simply because he has worked in the pro game.
If McCracken wants Dr Wu’s blessing, he will have to revoke his professional duties and apply again for his amateur status to be restored, a process that will take at least six months and seriously disrupt his squad’s preparation for the European championshipsand the world championships this year, both qualifying tournaments for the Olympics.
Forget for a minute, Dr Wu’s own professional circus. Forget, if you like, that several other countries will employ pro trainers – including the many exported Cubans who travel the world to the great benefit of developing boxing countries.
What sticks in the craw of this high-handedness is its magisterial sweep of these Lausanne-based administrators that they were unaware until now that McCracken trained Froch, a former amateur star who has boxed professional for nine years and who recently reclaimed his WBC super-middleweight title.
AIBA, clearly, are an international governing body to regard in the same breath as Fifa and the ICC.
Froch, meanwhile, is in no doubt his long-time friend and adviser will continue to be in his corner, including for his Super Six fight against Glen Johnson in Atlantic City on 4 June.
“There is no way he will do that,” the champion said, referring to stories that he would have to give up training Froch, or surrender his amateur licence.
“It just means he cannot work the corner in championships and I don’t think he will worry too much about that. All the hard work is done in the gym in Sheffield anyway.”
That’s putting a bit of a gloss on it, although McCracken does have the help of a great back-up team there in the former Olympic bronze medallist and world professional champion Richie Woodhall, as well as conditioning and dietary experts at the best amateur boxing HQ in the world, at the English Institute of Sport.
As ever, there is more to this than is immediately obvious. AIBA has been warring with the Amateur Boxing Association of England and the umbrella body the British Amateur Boxing Association for some time, most recently over Paul King’s unsuccessful attempt to unseat Dr Wu.
They suspended King for trying to have the annual conference called off towards the end of last year, along with 13 other nations deemed to have violated Aiba’s code of conduct.
The rights and wrongs of that campaign are complex and not immediately relevant. What is undeniable is that only in amateur boxing could such a naïve and harmful row break out. Not even football and cricket could match this for ham-fisted administration and sheer bloody-mindedness.
For years the sport in this country was run by warring factions who couldn’t see beyond their next free airline ticket. McCracken’s predecessor, Terry Edwards, walked after being nudged in the wake of Great Britain’s most successful Olympics in more than half a century, not because he wasn’t doing a good job, but because he was in conflict with powerful people in the sport.
Now we are seeing that same ugly scenario played out on the world scene. Is there a secret town in the middle of a forest where they breed serial idiots with more air miles than sense?
These brutes in suits clearly care more about their rule book than the boxers. Some of them are selfless and dedicated individuals; unfortunately, there are too many who worry more about their next subsidised trip, their dinners and their badges. They forget why they got into amateur boxing in the first place.
As it happens, then, McCracken will continue as the national coach and, against the odds, he will put together a squad even better than the one that went to Beijing.