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Professional boxers in Olympics is a bad idea, say fighters, others

Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who won the gold medal against Riddick Bowe in the 1988 Olympic Games, is against sending pro fighters to the games in Rio de Janeiro. Allsport UK /Allsport/Getty Images

In theory, the idea of professional boxers competing in the Olympics sounds fun and interesting. Who wouldn't want to watch national dream teams of fighters going for gold in Rio de Janeiro this summer?

For years it has always been just fantasy. But on Wednesday, AIBA, the organization that overseas amateur boxing, voted overwhelmingly to allow professionals to compete in the Rio Games, if they qualify.

I said the idea was fun and interesting. In practice, it is horrible for many reasons. The most significant is because it would promote dangerous mismatches between top professional and far less experienced amateurs.

It also would be unfair to young men who have worked for years through the qualifying process to be shoved aside by a pro swooping in with a chance to qualify a few weeks before the tournament. Professionals who would seek to enter the qualifying process have also not been subject to out-of-competition drug testing.

Thankfully, it seems unlikely that top professionals will seek to qualify. Manny Pacquiao, for example, expressed interest in representing the Philippines, but after he was elected to his country's senate last month he announced he would pass on the opportunity if AIBA allowed it.

According to an Associated Press report on Wednesday's vote, unified light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev expressed interest in representing his home country of Russia, but his promoter, Kathy Duva of Main Events, said that is impossible.

"There's no chance that's happening," Duva said. "It wouldn't happen this year. It's just not possible. He has a contract for a fight in July and then [another one] later in the year, so no chance, not even a discussion. During the Olympics he has media commitments to promote the next fight during August. It's never been raised with me [by Kovalev or his team].

"If it was brought up maybe it was in a wistful way. It's not going to happen. He's definitely not going to the Olympics. I don't even want to think about what he'd do to an amateur. It's absurd."

What is also absurd is that AIBA voted to approve the measure just 10 weeks before the Olympic tournament begins, a short window compared to the usual qualifying process, although there is a qualifying tournament taking place in Venezuela next month.

Many star fighters, past and present, railed against AIBA's ruling. Here are just a few:

Lennox Lewis: "Olympic boxing is built for amateurs and is the highest achievement you can get, alongside being world amateur champion. All of a sudden you could have a scenario where someone like former world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, who won Olympic gold in Atlanta and has so much experience, could go up against a kid of 18 who has had just 10 fights."

Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.: "Professional versus amateur boxers is a real crime. It is attacking the very roots of boxing. It endangers the lives and careers of young talented [amateur\ boxers."

Larry Holmes: "Amateurs should not fight professionals. It won't be a fair fight. I would not do it. Removing the headgear from amateurs is a huge mistake. The idea is to make boxing safer, not to let them get hurt due to commercial interests."

Carl Frampton: "Pro boxers being allowed to fight in Olympics is ridiculous. They're two different sports. It's like a badminton player playing tennis. AIBA have got worse since I was an amateur, and that's hard to believe. What about the amateurs who've been dreaming of the Olympics for years, have yet to qualify and some pro takes their spot at the last minute?"

Ricky Hatton: "What are AIBA thinking? Goodbye amateur boxing now, as far as I'm concerned. Can't say I'm a fan of this."

David Haye: "All it's going to take is one 17-year-old kid from Sweden fighting an American 30-year-old current world champion, puts the poor kid into a coma and then everyone will ask: 'Why did you allow that to happen?' Obviously, it is a contact sport, so why would you allow that 17-year-old boy to fight this 30-year-old man who has already won the Olympics 10 years ago? What's the point?"

Badou Jack: "I fought in the Olympics eight years ago. You cannot allow fights between professionals or world champions and young amateur fighters. That would be a big risk."

Erik Morales: "As an amateur, you are in a learning stage. At the end of the day, amateur fighters are not familiar on what professional boxing is. That would be a great disadvantage to happen in the Olympics. They don't have the skills, the training [or] experience. I don't understand this. Professionals have a lot of advantages over amateurs."

Some promoters also weighed in.

Rodney Berman: "Pro boxers at the Olympics? About as stupid as it gets."

Lou DiBella: "AIBA is a disgrace."

Regulators and sanctioning bodies are not happy about it either.

"The bottom line is that professionals will compete against amateur fighters. Amateur/professional participation would create a competitive environment detrimental to the sport and dangerous for the participants, particularly young amateurs learning their craft," said John Carvelli, chairman of the California State Athletic Commission. "It is our collective responsibility to protect the health and safety of amateur athletes, while we protect and promote the honorable tradition of Olympic boxing."

The WBC has been against the inclusion of professionals in the Olympics for quite some time, as well as AIBA's creation of the quasi-pro World Series of Boxing, which is seen by most as AIBA's way of controlling the fighters as amateurs and then as professionals.

To show how serious the WBC is taking the prospect of pros in the Olympics, the organization recently announced that if any fighter ranked in its top 15 in any weight division decides to participate in the Olympics they will be banned from the WBC rankings for two years. That would seem to be a strong deterrent.

Now imagine that. The WBC and I actually agree on something for a change. What a rarity. If that can happen it should illustrate professionals fighting amateurs in the Olympics truly is a bad idea.