Roy Jones Jr relives pain of 'stolen' Seoul Olympics gold as World Boxing federation promises judging reforms
More than three decades after an Olympic gold was "stolen" from him at the Seoul Games of 1988, American legend Roy Jones Jr. sat at a global press conference and relived the "devastating" moment,
Amateur boxing decided to confront its ugly past and it had just the man to voice decades of frustration and anger that pugilists have felt across the globe. More than three decades after an Olympic gold was "stolen" from him by "crooked" judges at the Seoul Games of 1988, American legend Roy Jones Jr. sat at a global press conference in Lausanne, flanked by International Boxing Association (AIBA) President Umar Kremlev and relived the "devastating" moment which is considered one of the lowest points in the sport's history.
Jones lost 2-3 to South Korean Park-Si-Hun in the final of the light middle-weight (71kg) division in the Seoul Games despite landing 86 punches to the home favourite's 32. Jones turned professional a year later and went on to become a world champion in four different weight categories but he could never get rid of the anger of losing that final. "To see an opposition hand be raised by judges who were crooked, to have a wrong and injustice not being fixed...I earned a gold medal that night in Seoul in 1988. "Judges were crooked and I am sure they were not the only ones," Jones said on Monday night, his emotions as raw as one could get even after 33 years of that infamous result. "I can never forget that feeling, when they raised the Korean's hand over mine," he recalled.
Even the winner of that bout has led a tormented life. Park has often stated that he never thought he would be declared the winner, that he was as shocked as Jones when his hand was raised and that he wished he had not won. "It wasn't his fault. He was as much a victim of circumstances as I was. He raised my hand to express that. He knew what had happened," Jones said. And it is this pain that Kremlev promised to end on the six-month anniversary of his tenure, which he celebrated with a no-holds-barred interaction with select international media, including PTI.
Independent inquiries are currently underway into the judging at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the recent Asian Championships in Dubai as AIBA pushes for re-affiliation from the International Olympic Committee, which has suspended the body and taken over the conduct of the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. "We all know that what happened before us was a major, to put it bluntly, crime," Kremlev said referring to the AIBA before him which was found to have swept serious financial wrongdoing under the carpet and allowed a dubious judging system to go unchecked.
In the Rio Olympic Games, its judges were literally shamed by the then bantamweight world champion Michael Conlan, who lost his quarterfinal despite monstrous domination that left his opponent incapable of competing in the next round. Conlan didn't hold back while leaving the ring, confronting the judges with an expletive-laden rant and declaring that he was quitting amateur boxing for good. The AIBA, at that time, responded by suspending Conlan instead of acting on the issues he raised. The Irishman responded by turning professional and remaining unbeaten to this day. Jones was the Conlan of Seoul Games.
What an Olympic gold medal means to an athlete could be gauged from the rage that still came across in his voice when he touched on the "ugly past" that AIBA is desperate to shed. "For me, the damage is done, it will be there always. When you sacrifice, and you don't get rewarded, that's devastating. I never want to see another person go down the same road," he said. The three judges from that bout were suspended for life. But given how boxing's scoring system has remained contentious at best and outrageous at worst for decades after that, it doesn't seem those punishments had any detrimental impact. "The integrity of boxing has gone down so much. The judges are there to give fair decisions...that's why the Olympics were so big, they were the biggest things in amateur boxing. "The Olympic champions were biggest champions of their countries, and to have these guys not being treated fairly was an awful situation," he said. "It's a feeling that I have never digested, to this date I feel it was just yesterday because I was the youngest kid on my team. To have that gold medal stolen from me was horrific," added Jones who was 19 at that time.
Despite Kremlev's warnings that those found indulging in wrongdoing would be banned for life and the introduction of a review system, allegations of unfair judging cropped up at the Asian Championships only last month. India's Amit Panghal was among those who felt he got a raw deal although the country's protest during the tournament was rejected by the jury. "During the championships, we removed a number of persons and investigation is underway....(when it will be completed) depends on the information that is coming our way. But I am want this to be completed quickly," Kremlev said in response to a PTI query. "When these investigations are over, the names of those involved will be announced and tough decision will be taken to disqualify them for life. "There are too many people who suffered. It is just huge (the actual damage)," he asserted.
India's six-time world champion M C Mary Kom was also a part of the event through a pre-recorded message in which she acknowledged that AIBA of the past had not done enough to stand by its boxers. "For too long, AIBA has not set a good example but I am happy that it is changing," she said. Kremlev promised it would change for the better. "We want to achieve 100 per cent honest judging...It would be difficult to have a perfect system. However, we can try," he said, hoping that amateur boxing's governing body would be back to running the show in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.