Talk of 'boxing mafia' rises following scandals

LONDON - Judging from the scandals that have rocked the boxing competitons of the London Olympic Games, the so-called Mafia in international boxing is apparently still around, and Kazakhstan is now among the "Lords of the Ring."

This was the reaction of some Philippine boxing officials to the controversial defeat suffered by light flyweight Mark Anthony Barriga to Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan in their round of 16 fight last weekend.

"This time the Mafia is worse," said Manny Lopez, former president of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (Abap). He pointed to Kazakhstan and China-a front-runner in the overall medal race in the Olympics-as the new "Lords of the Ring."

The "Lord of the Rings" is a fantasy trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien about a cursed ring that corrupts whoever has it. In the Tolkien story, the main ring needs to be destroyed to save the fictional world of Middle Earth.

So is the Mafia in boxing really still around and Barriga its latest victim?

Allegations of corruption

International boxing had been hounded for years by allegations of fight fixing, bribery and corruption under the scandal-rocked, 20-year rule of Pakistan's Anwar Chowdry as president of the International Amateur Boxing Association (Aiba).

Chowdry was disgraced and ousted in 2006 and replaced by Wu Ching-kuo of Taiwan, who promised reforms. This prompted the International Olympic Committee to restore Aiba to good standing after freezing its share of more than a million dollars in television revenue due to controversial decisions in the 2004 Olympics.

Lopez and his father, former Manila Mayor Mel Lopez, fought Chowdry for years and helped in ousting him.

The younger Lopez believes a new Mafia has replaced the old one.

"Nothing has changed," Lopez said the morning after Barriga was slapped two penalties- worth a total of four points for his opponent-that cost him his fight against Zhakypov. "We lost to the referee, not to the Kazakhstan fighter," he said.

Holding and wrestling

Lopez said it was a no-no for referees to impose penalties on fighters in the third round-unless the infractions were very blatant-because this could change the complexion of the fight and tilt the balance in favour of an undeserving fighter.

That's exactly what happened to Barriga, who was penalized twice without receiving a word of caution in the third round and lost by a single point, 17-16.

Under the rules, a referee may caution or give a warning to an offending fighter. A "caution" is without a penalty but a "warning" is more serious, with two points added to the score of the other boxer.

Philippine officials said Barriga was a victim of Zhakypov's holding and wrestling the whole fight. In fact, the Kazakh was cautioned time and again without incurring a warning.

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