Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

Next Thursday on September 22 marks the 28th anniversary of what many believe, for all the controversies of Rio 2016, was the lowest point for boxing at the Olympics - the moment when a referee was attacked by home officials at the 1988 Games in Seoul after a decision had gone against a South Korean bantamweight, Byun Jong-il, who subsequently delayed the competition for more than an hour by occupying the ring.

The home boxer lost his second round bout against Alexander Hristov of Bulgaria after being docked two crucial points by New Zealand referee Keith Walker for illegal use of the head.  The decision sparked fury within the home ranks and Byun’s coach, Lee Heung-Soo, ran into the ring and hit Walker on the back.

Soon several other Koreans had joined the coach and rained down blows upon the shocked Kiwi, who had to be defended by fellow referees. Even one of the security guards took part in the attack, aiming a kick at Walker’s head as he made his shaky way out of the ring and later claiming: "I acted instinctively for the love of my fatherland".

Walker went straight from the arena to his hotel, then to the airport and onto the first flight home to New Zealand.

Another target of the Koreans’ anger was Emil Jetchev, the Bulgarian President of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) Referees’ Committee. A Korean coach attempted to smash Jetchev over the head with a plastic box. Fortunately the blow was deflected by United States judge Stan Hamilton, who had to be treated for a badly cut hand.

Once the ring had been cleared, Byun staged his own protest, sitting silently inside the ropes for a total of 67 minutes, breaking the Olympic sit-in record of 51 minutes set in 1964 by fellow Korean Choh Dong-kih.

Initially, he sat on the floor directly in front of the NBC cameras.

Later, he moved to a chair that had been brought to his corner. Two bouts were postponed while he sat there, and when the arena lights were turned off after the morning session, NBC put a spotlight on him.

New Zealand referee Keith Walker is attacked by an South Korean official in the ring after the defeat of home boxer Byun Jong-il at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul - an incident many regard as the low point of Olympic boxing ©Getty Images
New Zealand referee Keith Walker is attacked by an South Korean official in the ring after the defeat of home boxer Byun Jong-il at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul - an incident many regard as the low point of Olympic boxing ©Getty Images

Byun, a 19-year-old university student, had been engaged in a mauling bout with Hristov and had been cautioned twice by Walker during the first two rounds for head-butting. When he committed a third and fourth infraction, each cost him a point.

Earlier in the boxing tournament, ironically enough, Walker had been accused by Irish officials for not penalising home welterweight Song Kyung-sup for head butting.

Interviewed at the Seoul airport as he was about to board a plane for New Zealand, Walker told NBC-TV he had reviewed the film of the bout and stood by his decision.

"I really don't believe I did a bad job," Walker claimed. He said he had watched the replay while in police custody for his own protection.

Walker said he was shocked at the reaction of the crowd and the South Korean officials. He said that during the melee he was punched and kicked, liquid was thrown in his face, he had his hair pulled, and one man "nearly pulled my ear off".

Asked if he had been told to leave the country for his own safety, Walker replied: "I told me to leave the country."

Jerry Shears of Canada, an official with AIBA, said: "The Organising Committee will have to answer to AIBA as to how this could happen. This is very sad. It was a serious incident."

Dr. Robert Voy, a medical officer with the United States Olympic Committee, commented at the time: "This is awful. This could be the death knell for boxing in the Olympics."

The spotlight that had shone upon Byun was brought figuratively to bear upon the hosts, with the eventual result that five Korean officials were suspended and the President of their Olympic Committee resigned. The Korean Government formally apologised to the New Zealand Government.

Part of the fury of the attacks on Walker reportedly stemmed from the erroneous belief among the hosts that he had officiated at the previous day’s narrow and controversial defeat of the host nation’s light flyweight favourite Oh Kwang-Soo at the hands of Michael Carbajal of the US.

South Korea's Byun Jong-il remained in the ring for 67 minutes in protest at his defeat in the bantamweight second round at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 ©Getty Images
South Korea's Byun Jong-il remained in the ring for 67 minutes in protest at his defeat in the bantamweight second round at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 ©Getty Images

As for the attack on Jetchev – that might have had something to do with a controversy that had taken place in an earlier welterweight bout between Todd Foster of the US and Chun Jin-chul of South Korea.

Due to the high number of entrants to the 1988 Olympic boxing tournament, two rings were used simultaneously until the quarter-finals. To avoid confustion, bouts in Ring A were ended by a bell and in Ring B by a buzzer.

The bout between Chun and Foster took place in Ring B and when the bell rang in Ring A, both Chun and the Hungarian referee Sandor Pajar hesitated. As Chun dropped his hands and looked to retreat to his corner the referee called stop. Foster, realising the round had not finished, hit the Korean with a left hook.

Footage shows that Chun looked to his corner before slumping to the canvas in the pretence of being knocked unconscious by an illegal blow. The referee started to count Chun out but at four, stopped to consult with the judges, until Jetchev declared the bout a no contest and ordered a rematch which Foster won by knock-out.

But part of the fury certainly went back further, to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where Koreans felt officials had shown home bias and were particularly incensed by the dubious defeat of their light welterweight Kim Dong-Il at the hands of US fighter Jerry Page.

After Dong-Il was adjuged to have lost by a score of 4-1 - something which even the Los Angeles Times reporter felt was the wrong result - there was a mass of protests by the Korean officials. Soo-In Oh, the vice-president of the Korean delegation lodged a formal protest against the judging of the match and threatened to withdraw the entire boxing team from further competition.

Oh was quoted as saying: "The judging has been quite unfair so far. We came here to learn a lot about the Olympic Games, because we are the hosts in 1988, and we've decided there's nothing to learn."

That was arguable given what transpired in the ring on many occasions during the 1988 Olympic boxing tournament.

Roy Jones Jr got this decision at Seoul 1988, but his defeat in the light-middleweight final was widely regarded as the most scandalous decision in Olympic boxing history ©Getty Images
Roy Jones Jr got this decision at Seoul 1988, but his defeat in the light-middleweight final was widely regarded as the most scandalous decision in Olympic boxing history ©Getty Images

The Byun Jong-Il incident preceded what has come to be known as possibly the most scandalous decisions in Olympic boxing history as home fighter Park Si-Hun was awarded gold in the light-middleweight division ahead of the outstanding American Roy Jones Jr, who would go on to win professional world titles in four different weight divisions.

The 19-year-old from Pensacola in Florida had spent the best part of the three rounds raining punches on Park. Compubox, a private company that kept a record of all connecting punches for the US television network NBC, offered clear evidence of how the bout had gone: Jones registered 86 hits, his opponent 32.

It seemed that the only way the American could have won his gold would have been by a knockout, as he had hinted beforehand: "I know how tough it is to get a decision against a South Korean." His immediate reaction: "I don’t know if I’ll box again ever."

Three of the five judges ruled that the South Korean had earned a victory. The uproar over a result that was so clearly unjust was such that many Koreans rang local radio and television stations to complain. Park himself apologised to Jones, telling him through an interpreter: "I am sorry. I lost the fight. I feel very bad."

On the victory stand, Park had raised Jones’s arm to mark what he felt was the true result. Inevitably there were accusations that officials within the Korean Amateur Boxing Association had bribed or coerced some of the judges to give the result to their man.

"As I saw the result being passed to the ring," Jones later recalled, "I saw the Korean officials starting to jump up and down. The referee said to me, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this to you’.”

The Guardian reported that British judge, Rod Robertson, one of the most respected officials in amateur boxing, who was a spectator, said: "I can only use one word for the decision … disgraceful." It also quoted Anwar Chowdhry, then AIBA President, who called the decision "unfair".

Judges from the Soviet Union and Hungary had voted Jones the overwhelming winner by four points, but those from Uganda, Uruguay and Morocco had the Korean just in front.

Sports Illustrated reported that one judge, Hiouad Larbi of Morocco, told journalists:"“The American won easily: so easily, in fact, that I was positive my four fellow judges would score the fight for the American by a wide margin. So I voted for the Korean to make the score only 4-1 for the American and not embarrass the host country."

An official International Olympic Committee investigation found that all three judges had been wined and dined by Korean officials, though there was no solid evidence that they had been bribed outright.

The result stood. But what did change in the wake of the 1988 scandals was the scoring system, by the time of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona electronic punch counters had been installed.

For Jones, however, there were unique consolations in defeat. The boxing documentary Beyond the Glory stated that in a display of goodwill 50 Korean monks visited the US silver medalllist to express in person their shame and sorrow. Jones confirmed: "They came to me to say they were so sorry for what had happened to me and what their country had done to me."

The ultimate consolation however came when Jones was awarded the Val Barker Cup as outstanding boxer of the tournament, displaying the best style and technique. Only twice before had the medal gone to someone who had not won the gold medal.

Park had had something of a charmed life in his progress to the light-middleweight final. In his first round, the South Korean had been extremely fortunate not to be disqualified for two illegal blows to the hip and kidney of Abdalla Ramadan of Sudan, who doubled over in agony. The Australian referee seemed reluctant to disqualify him, however, and deferred to the judges, who ruled that, as Park had not been cautioned, Ramadan had retired.

When the quarter-final result against Vincenzo Nardiello was announced, the Italian dropped to his knees and beat the canvas in frustration before running out of the ring and screaming at the jury.

Vladimir Nikitin of Russia begins to celebrate his hugely controversial bantamweight quarter-final win over Ireland's Michael Conlan at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images
Vladimir Nikitin of Russia begins to celebrate his hugely controversial bantamweight quarter-final win over Ireland's Michael Conlan at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

Fast forward 28 years, and Nardiello’s indignation had its echo in that of Irish boxer Michael Conlan as he raged against his defeat to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin on a unanimous decision in the bantamweight quarter-final.

Using the ringside microphone, Conlan - who refused to leave the ring - accused AIBA of corruption, claiming: "Amateur boxing stinks from the core right to the top."

There was also widespread unease at the unanimous decision which gave Russia’s Evgeny Tischenko victory in the previous day’s heavyweight final over Kazakhstan's Vasiliy Levit, despite the fact that the Russian sustained a serious cut to the head and spent the bout on the back foot.

The day after the Conlan fight, AIBA said it had reviewed all 239 bouts up to that point and acknowledged that "less than a handful of decisions [were] not at the level expected" and sent home an undisclosed number of judges and referees.

AIBA also "reassigned" its executive director Karim Bouzidi, who was in charge of helping run the boxing tournament at Rio 2016. 

The international body dismissed the corruption allegations saying that "unless tangible proof is put forward, not rumours, we will continue to use any means, including legal or disciplinary actions to protect our sport."

Rio 2016 was the first Olympics in which scoring was done on the 10-point must system used in professional boxing. Since 1992 judges had used a computer system to count each punch, no matter how damaging the blow, and award the bout to the fighter who was most active.

Under the new system, judges declare a winner after each round based on a criteria including quality of punches landed, aggression and tactics. Five judges score each bout with a computer randomly selecting which three scorecards will count.

AIBA is now considering a further change to the scoring following a two-day meeting in Lausanne at the end of August attended by AIBA President C K Wu which reflected upon the Rio 2016 events.

The latest proposal is to use all five of the judges’ scorecards. Will this be enough to prevent any further controversy occurring in the ring at Tokyo 2020 Games? It would be nice to think so, but history suggests otherwise…

This list of boxing bother at the Games is by no means comprehensive, but it is indicative of the constant struggle that exists within the sport to be correct, and to be seen to be correct.

At the London Olympics of 1908, Australia's Reginald "Snowy" Baker was the only non-British boxer to win a medal, and he was not satisfied with the silver he took in the middleweight final against home fighter Johnny Douglas. Baker claimed the referee was not impartial - and he may have had a point given the fact that he was Douglas’s father…

At the 1924 Olympics in Paris, Britain’s Harry Mallin, the defending middleweight champion, lost a split decision to France’s Roger Brousse in the quarter-finals. Mallin complained, showing the referee bite marks on his chest and shoulder and after an appeal the home fighter - who it transpired had also bitten his first round opponent - was disqualified. Brousse’s fans had to be restrained by the police, and it required a further intervention from the gendarmes to allow the final – in which Mallin defeated fellow Briton John Elliott – to take place.

At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, controversial decisions led to brawls among spectators. One such came after a disputed decision against American flyweight Hyman Miller in the first round. The US boxing team considered withdrawing from the Games. The boxers were persuaded otherwise by the then President of the United States Olympic Committee, Major-General Douglas MacArthur, who informed them: "Americans never quit."

Major-General Douglas MacArthur prevented a United States protest withdrawal from the 1928 Olympic boxing competition in Amsterdam with three words:
Major-General Douglas MacArthur prevented a United States protest withdrawal from the 1928 Olympic boxing competition in Amsterdam with three words: "Americans never quit" ©Getty Images

Argentinian spectators  fought a pitched battle with police after home boxer Lambertus Van Klaveren was given the featherweight title over Victor Peralta, whom most observers felt had outclassed his Dutch opponent. The Daily Telegraph in London reported: "It was as plain as a pike- staff which was the master."

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were also troubled by several controversial incidents in the ring. Spanish featherweight Valentin Loren vented his frustrations at being disqualified by landing a punch on the referee and promptly received a life ban. The next day José Roberto Chirino of Argentina did exactly the same to earn a disqualification from his light-middleweight quarter-final. South Korea’s Jo Dong-Gi protested his loss by sitting down in his corner and refusing to leave for 51 minutes - a record that would be broken 24 years later by his compatriot Byun Jong-il.

As David Wallechinsky’s Complete Book of the Olympics relates, the switch to electronic scoring of punches landed at Barcelona 1992 did not find a similar standardisation among the all-too-human judges. Such was the embarrassment in AIBA following the decision to award home town fighter Rafael Lozano victory over the outstanding US favourite Eric Griffin, despite the fact that all five judges marked the American as the winner, highlighted the glitch-factor at these Games, and the public were no longer allowed access to the individual judges’ scores.

Each judge was given a scoring console that was essentially a punch counter. Whenever a boxer landed an effective punch, the judge was supposed to count a punch. Since the definition of an "effective punch" is somewhat subjective, the counter only reflected a landed punch if three of the five judges pushed their buttons within one second of one another. The overall score was then simply a punch count of whoever landed the most effective punches. However, many judges, unfamiliar with the new system, failed to react in time. Fine tuning was required…

Strangely, an embattled exit from the Olympic ring of a referee named Walker had taken place 64 years before the Seoul debacle. At Paris 1924, the decision of English refereee T H Walker to disqualify Guiseppi Oldani for persistent holding caused the Italian to subside to the floor, sobbing, while his supporters pelted the referee for the best - or worst - part of an hour with sticks and coins. Walker was finally escorted from the arena by a group of British, American and South African boxers, headed by the 265 pounds wrestler Con O'Kelly.

By Karl Marx’s dictum, the repetition of this historic upset was tragedy rather than farce. But all concerned with the sport will be hoping AIBA can work out a system which precludes the possibility of similar controversies disfiguring future Olympics.