Wu Ching-kuo © Reuters

Games bid amateurs farewell



Olympic Games boxing will change drastically after London 2012. It will no longer be a sport for true amateurs.

The lack of stars and the difficulty most amateurs have in earning a living have convinced administrators to acknowledge the need for lucrative contracts and millionaire fighters even at the risk of abandoning protective headgear.

"I liked the experience of the Olympic Games and I want to do it again in four years' time,” says Panama lightweight Juan Huertas, who is barely 18 and was eliminated in the first round in London.

“But I'll do it only if my country's federation and the government guarantee I'll have a grant and financial support for my family.

Mexico's Oscar Molina, who made an early departure in the welterweight class, was more direct."This was my last amateur fight. I'm turning professional, even if I don't yet know whom I'm going to be signing with," he said

Olympic boxing has always relied on fighters who are around 20. Most of them experience the Games and then turn professional.

"In Puerto Rico it's impossible to live as an amateur. None of our boxers has managed to do two Olympic Games. It’s hard because; they have to go fight professionally,” says Orlando Rodriguez Zayas, a Puerto Rican trainer.

Cuba has been the only country that kept up the amateur status of its boxers, and indeed bans them from fighting professionally. And Brazil recently introduced ways to bolster amateur boxing.

"In Brazil, professionals starve. Thanks to the help of the government and the sponsors, I can earn a living for both my parents," says Juliao Neto. At 31 he looks like a grandfather among the boxers at London Games.

The financial support of an oil company is crucial for Brazilian boxers.

But the International Amateur Boxing Association has stepped up the transition to professionalism.

AIBA WILL PICK THE BEST

AIBA president Wu Ching-kuo drove the creation of AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) to bring together around 60 boxers who are set to get professional contracts and are allowed to take part in the Olympics.

"It will be interesting. AIBA will pick the best boxers, so it will always be a good guy against another good guy," said Joao Barros, a coach with the Brazilian team.

Some experts fear die AIBA could go off the rails on the way to professionalism.

Even more controversial is the idea of dropping protective head gear and vests from the list of requirements.

"It's very dangerous. If I win a fight and I get a cut on an eyebrow I won't be able to box in the next bout; I'll have to go home,” says Puerto Rico's Jeyvier Cintron, a flyweight.

Wu's idea is to make amateur boxing a real attraction for spectators. He also hopes to see boxers such as Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

"I am determined to launch professional boxing under the umbrella of the AIBA, so that we will be the true and respected leader of our sport; not any other organisation," Wu said recently.

Olympic boxing is bidding farewell to an era after the London Games, and boxers appear happy to hop on to the train of change.



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