Alan Hubbard

What, I wonder, would the sadly departed Muhammad Ali have had to say about the very idea of professional boxers mixing it in the Olympic ring with those, who, despite the attempts of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) to persuade us otherwise, are still essentially amateurs.

It is a question which fortuitously was never put to the The Greatest, whose springboard for becoming the universally-revered legend he will remain for eternity was winning an Olympic gold medal back in Rome in 1960. But I doubt it would be difficult to gauge his reaction from a remark he once made about a proposed title fight he deemed a total mismatch, saying: “It would be like putting a great heavyweight champion in against a skinny kid from the Olympics.”

Ali would certainly have had some fun at AIBA President CK Wu’s expense, although I suspect they may well have rubbed along.

It is a pity Ali, who passed away at the weekend aged 74, is no longer around to pit his wit and words against the chief protagonist for this madcap mix-and-match idea which I believe is destined to end in tears or worse. If it ever actually happens.

There is much to admire in what Dr Wu, AIBA’s ubiquitous and ambitious overlord, has done to elevate his sport to its present highly-respected status, notably with safety measures, the advancement of female boxing and the establishment of the World Series of Boxing.

Now he says of bringing pros into the Games: “This is a key part of my master plan and is a big step forward."

According to the Daily Mail’s boxing correspondent, Dr Wu sounds like a villain in a James Bond movie and of course it is all part of his grand design to rule the roost in all forms of boxing.

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Muhammad Ali would not have approved of professionals boxing at the Olympic Games ©Getty Images

But he must be careful this questionable aspiration doesn’t eventually knock him off his perch.

For I hear rumblings from within the International Olympic Committee that some members (and there is still an anti-boxing clique in its cabal) are fearful that a tragedy, or near tragedy, should there be mismatch-ups resulting from the draw would bring global opprobrium on the body. And indeed it would.

A very sound counter-argument has been made by the pro World Boxing Council, who are banning their champions and leading contenders from putting their vests back on. They say: “Boxing was one of the founding sports of the Ancient Olympic Games in Greece and modern boxing has been known to be divided into amateur boxing and professional boxing.

“AIBA is acting with an evident conflict of interest by threatening this structure by being a promoter, manager, regulator and governing entity who wants to have amateur boxers fight professional boxers in a scenario where severe mismatches could result in tragedies.

"To have an amateur boxer vs a professional boxer is like having a marathon runner vs a sprint 100-metre runner, both are runners but they compete in different sports and disciplines.

"Basketball, tennis, soccer and other sports have "pros vs amateurs" in Olympics, the difference is that in boxing, there are no goals, baskets or points. You don’t play boxing. Boxing is a combat sport and if the level of opposition is not properly matched it can be very dangerous.”

AIBA President CK Wu has faced criticism from the World Boxing Council about professionals fighting at the Olympics
AIBA President CK Wu has faced criticism from the World Boxing Council about professionals fighting at the Olympics ©Getty Images

Personally I agree with the sentiments of Belfast’s pro world champion Carl Frampton, who argues that amateur and professional are two different types of boxing – rather like asking a badminton player to take part in a tennis tournament.

I don’t see how it works on any level.

While some elite amateurs might well hold their own over three rounds against some professionals, what about in the early stages of the competition when these seasoned pros could be paired with genuine novices from emerging nations?

Yes, professional practitioners have raised the bar in some Olympic pursuits, such as tennis, basketball and football, but these are not combat sports and there remains a level playing field - there is no difference in the games played by amateurs of pros.

It just doesn’t stack up. They’ve taken headguards away, which I approve of, because I always felt they offer a bigger target. So that is a good thing. But to do this simply presents young boxers with more danger than ever.

Professional fighters are trained to fight over 12 rounds. Three rounds would be a walk in the park for them. Most Olympians are young amateurs because that is the nature of it. You simply can’t put them in against hardened pros - they’ve got too much going for them.

The whole infrastructure of boxing has been built on every country developing their amateurs to go to the Olympics. The ones who want to turn pro after the Games will do so. Where do we go with this now? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Here is another thought; what happens if an aspiring young pro happens to get beaten by an amateur in the Olympics? What does that do to his professional career? Plus how many pros will actually want to push themselves through the punishing Olympic schedule for no financial reward?

Olympic silver medallist Amir Khan has hinted he may try and represent Pakistan at Rio 2016
Olympic silver medallist Amir Khan has hinted he may try and represent Pakistan at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

Ok, so Dr Wu says that now this now means anyone can compete in the Olympic Games in whatever sport. What next? Are they going to invite the mega-stars of WWE like The Undertaker and The Rock to compete in the freestyle wrestling events?

They talk about boxers like Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao or Wladimir Klitschko being parachuted into the Games, supposedly to widen the appeal of the shortened form of the sport.

Britain won’t pick him and rightly so, but I am particularly disappointed that Amir, whose entire multi-million pound pro career has been built on winning Olympic silver as a lone teenager for Britain in Athens should now declare that he is ready to box for Pakistan in Rio.

Whatever possessed him to say such a thing? Was he merely trying to ingratiate himself with his hosts, as he made the statement while visiting the nation where his immigrant father was born?

Maybe it was a sense of déjà vu as he had threatened to box for Pakistan before Britain, concerned he might be too young at 17, relented and picked him for Athens 2004.

Imagine the outrage if he was to end up him opposing a young British boxer in an Olympic final.

Judging from the hostile tweets, he has already alienated many of his British fans and it could rule him out of receiving a long-overdue deserved honour, such as an OBE, which many, including myself, have been campaigning for.

Amir, you Khan’t be serious. Think of Ali and what he did to make boxing the honourable sport it is today.