Sports

WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman Calls to Reinstate Headgear at the Olympics

The beef between Sulaiman and the AIBA continues to simmer.
August 26, 2016, 5:07pm
Photo by Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Mauricio Sulaiman, the head of the World Boxing Council (WBC), has called for the International Boxing Association (AIBA) to reinstate head protection in amateur competition following its absence in this year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Earlier in March of this year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced it would not stand in AIBA's way when it came to governing boxing in this year's Games. One of the key proposals put forth by AIBA was to do away with headgear altogether.

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As reported by Fightland, the IOC's announcement came after digesting the findings from AIBA and the British Journal of Sports Medicine's studies. Said findings suggest wearing headgear actually increases the likelihood of concussions and brain trauma in fighters, not decrease it.

A brief excerpt from that article reads: "In the AIBA study, Charles Butler, the chairman of the association's medical commission, studied 15,000 boxers, half of whom had competed with headgear and half of whom had competed without.

"He found that in the 7,352 rounds that took place with boxers wearing headgear, the rate of concussion was 0.38 per cent, compared with 0.17 per cent in the 7,545 rounds without headgear. The study found that headgear's protective padding can cause extra jarring to fighters' heads, give them a false sense of security, and make it more difficult to see punches coming, all of which can lead to brain damage."

Butler was later quoted as saying: "There's no evidence protective gear shows a reduction in incidence of concussion. In 1982, when the American Medical Association moved to ban boxing, everybody panicked and put headgear on the boxers, but nobody ever looked to see what the headgear did."

Despite the evidence which supports the notion that wearing headgear is the reverse of conducive when it comes to brain injury, Sulaiman still remains perturbed with this particular rule amendment from the AIBI. But, his concern doesn't lie with brain health, Sulaiman's apprehension is more geared towards damage on a superficial level–damage which can prevent boxers from progressing in amateur tournaments which typically see a quick turnaround of fights.

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Talking to the LA Times, Sulaiman said: "Having the headgear removed was a very dangerous and risky decision, and I was proved [correct] that it was a terrible situation, with the number of cuts. With multiple fights in a short period of time [during the Olympics], cuts can cause the fighters to be out of the competition."

Photo by Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The WBC President, son of Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Jose Sulaiman, may have a point. The most notable example of cuts hampering the competition at the Olympics was Russian bantamweight Vladimir Nikitin. Due to cuts received from his previous bout, Nikitin had to withdraw from his semi-final contest against Newark, New Jersey, native Shakur Stevenson—who went on to win a silver medal for the USA after being effectively afforded a bye to the final.

Perhaps it's his lack of tact. But, Sulaiman's concerns seem to rank competition above the wellbeing of boxers and their brain health. Referencing the AIBA report which led the IOC to their decision, Sulaiman said: "[AIBA didn't] report cuts went up [significantly]. Head guards have been a protection [since 1984]. Kids need to fight with headgear. Female fighters did. There's so much inconsistency, everything's so confusing. They just came out and made decisions without doing the thorough research that merits these decisions."

This is the latest instance of the ongoing spat between Sulaiman's WBC and AIBA. With the IOC's blessing of autonomy, AIBA announced they would also allow professional boxers to compete in the Olympics alongside amateurs three months after the headgear ban.

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In response, the WBC announced they would punish any of its champions or top 15-ranked boxers from competing under their banner for two years should they have opted to compete at this summer's Olympic Games as a professional. Sulaiman's organization was the first major boxing body to take this stance with the IBF following suit shortly afterwards.

"The WBC has voiced the opinion of the majority in the boxing community from all over the world," Sulaiman said in an official statement back in June. "There are too many unanswered questions, the competition format and standards are not clear and the risks towards the fighters' safety are tremendous.

"Boxing is 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."

It may sound dramatic, but it was a position matched by many professional boxers: even those who had competed in the Olympics themselves, such as gold medallist and present IBF world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

Carmine Tommasone. Hassan N'dam. Amnat Ruenroeng. Only three professional fighters dared to compete at this year's Olympics, though that low number was largely down to short notice with more expected to compete at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, should the rule stay intact.

In a column written for BoxingNews24, Sulaiman reiterated his stance on AIBA's move to allow professional boxers to compete in the Olympics. "The world boxing community shared their deep concern of this change of having pros compete with amateurs," Sulaiman opined.

"There were so many questions which had no answers from AIBA—no guidelines, no certainty, and it all was rushed with the ultimate goal of creating commercial interest in their competition. Hundreds of fighters expressed their opinions and how would they themselves would have suffered during their Olympic years had they faced strong, high level pros—Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar de la Hoya, David Haye, Barry McGuigan, Jeff Fenech, and so many others.

"Professional fighters do not belong in the Olympic Games. "BOXING IS NOT A GAME, YOU DONT PLAY BOXING." Basketball players may go home humiliated, but with their physical integrity. An amateur boxer facing a high-level pro could get fatally hurt."

With both parties sharing stubborn traits in the extreme, it's unlikely Sulaiman's WBC and AIBA will see eye-to-eye any time soon.