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Stink of scandal could deliver a knock-out blow

These days you can pre-pay for all sorts of advantages, including the right to suffer sooner on an easyJet flight. They call it speedy boarding. So if you can purchase Olympic tickets a year in advance, why not buy the medals too? Pay now and avoid the rush.

Olympic sport is permanently braced against the ram-raid, the swindle, the pharmaceutical con. A common claim is that the higher the subsequent financial rewards the greater the depth of cheating. But fraud was endemic in games and pastimes long before sport became a global corporation.

A new front has opened, though, with Newsnight's allegation that a senior official of the Amateur International Boxing Association promised Azerbaijan two golds at London 2012 in return for a $10m loan to assist the ailing World Series Boxing.

While the AIBA dismiss the accusations as "preposterous and untrue", it's a wonder no one thought of this before. Train for four years in some reeking sweat box and then place yourself at the mercy of potentially suggestible judges or simply deposit a large holdall with the governing body and wait for the national anthem to strike up?

This week we will discover whether the International Olympic Committee ethics commission considers the BBC's claims worthy of investigation. The IOC, no choir of angels themselves, are in the unenviable position of having to supervise many shambolic, secretive and self-serving governing bodies that function as personal vehicles for megalomaniacs. Most governments take a laissez-faire approach to sports administration (just think Switzerland and FIFA). Their view is that governing bodies are a kind of Unibond League for wannabe politicians too stupid to make it into parliament.

The sadness is that boxing will now take the manure-hit while other Olympic sports conceal, fail to conquer and even encourage other forms of cheating. As you read this, track and field athletes, cyclists, swimmers and shot-putters will be honing their performance-enhancing drug programmes and hoping to beat the testers.

A theoretical article of faith is that the spectator must trust what he or she will see at London 2012. A more realistic view is that the punter no longer assumes the spectacle is honest but merely hopes it is. The scandal-weary modern viewer sees an entertainment form, not a morality play.

While Ben Johnson remains the Olympic poster boy for yellow-eyed duplicity, few memories surpass the look on the face of Park Si-hun, a South Korean boxer who had just been punched 86 times by Roy Jones in the final of the 156-pound class in Seoul in 1988 -- while delivering 32 blows of his own.

Sad-eyed, Park waited for the inevitable confirmation of Jones's victory only to feel his own arm raised by the referee.

Mortification stole across his features. He was too embarrassed to celebrate. It was said that Park apologised to Jones. One of the three judges who were later suspended was found to have been wined and dined by Korean officials. The IOC fobbed Jones off with the best boxer at the Games award but have never corrected the injustice and he is still without his gold.

So the light falls again on boxing, a sport where larceny by judges is especially offensive because of the sacrifices made by the combatants.

Richie Woodhall, the former British fighter and now trainer with Team GB, said yesterday: "Now that I'm a coach, it's soul-destroying when we send boxers to tournaments and sometimes we can't see how they have been beaten. You just scratch your head over it. It's so disheartening.

"We have seen it happen many times in amateur boxing. Our guy is clearly the winner and doesn't get it. Anyone found to be guilty in any of this should be banned for life and sent to a Gulag." Vast would be the Gulag that housed all sport's cheats.

Boxing, an ancient Olympic discipline, is now at risk of expulsion as the IOC consider trimming the schedule from 26 to 25 sports after London.

But Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, is a former rugby player who understands the merits of physical combat. Instinct says he will argue against punishing the boxers themselves for sins committed by hangers-on, political opportunists and governing bodies allegedly on the make.

It would be a travesty to ostracise boxing on the back of a failure to control officials while allowing Greco-Roman wrestling and taekwondo to stay on the programme. It may be, though, that amateur boxing is incapable of maintaining a fair judging system at the Olympics, in which case the IOC should set up their own governing body for the duration of the Games, with people it can trust.

But just as spot-fixing in cricket showed that sport to be vulnerable to pre-emptive scripting, so the Olympics may need their own menu of prices for medals. If you can't buy the athletes, buy the people who decide the outcomes. If the IOC want to act, they can start by sending Roy Jones a gold medal, not 12 months early but 23 years too late.


Sunday Indo Sport