Muhammad Ali once described boxing as a ‘basic’ sport. ‘You want to know the answer to just one question: Who’s gonna win, who’s gonna win?’ said the legend of the ring.
It seems Olympic referees and judges in the run up to 2016 Rio Olympics, as well as senior officials at the International Boxing Association (AIBA), already knew the answer to that question before some of the fights had even taken place.
Professor Richard McLaren has conducted an exhaustive study of events around Rio 2016 and catalogued how fights were rigged.
He has found evidence of bribes, with money stuffed into toothpaste tubes, demands for $100,000 and threatening late-night visits to the hotel room of a boxing judge, who refused to join in with the corruption.
The investigator – whose revelations about Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme saw that country barred from competition – was called in when an internal probe found ‘strong suspicion’ of manipulation around a number of bouts at Rio.
He has focused on 11 suspicious fights at the Games, although he acknowledged there may be more. Among them was British boxer Joe Joyce’s contest with French opponent Tony Yoka.
Joyce was denied a gold medal at Rio when the judges unexpectedly awarded the fight to Yoka. Today, Joyce asked the International Olympic Committee to award the gold medal to him.
Another disputed bout involved Ireland’s Michael Conlan, whose bantamweight quarter-final against Vladimir Nikitin created public outcry at the time.
But it was not only at the Games themselves where contests were manipulated. McLaren has also highlighted corruption in the qualifying events for the Olympic Games, when fights were fixed in return for political backing, million-dollar loans to the AIBA, or on occasion, just old-fashioned greed.
But how was it actually done?
The seasoned investigator has interviewed 40 key witnesses and analysed almost two million documents, emails, video and audio recordings to answer that question.
He has described how the appointment of judges, referees and officials at Olympic events created the conditions in which the results of bouts could be manipulated by ensuring compliant people were in key positions.
In the run up to the 2016 games, he says those involved tested signalling systems to indicate to judges which way a fight should be scored.
Remarkably, it could be as obvious and as simple as leaning back or forward to indicate whether the blue or red corner would be victorious.
‘The signalling process started off as something basic, using either agreed upon hand or eye signals between them, or leaning back or forward with their bodies, to inform others of the way they should judge a bout,’ McLaren said in his report, which was published yesterday.
One witness stated that the ‘5 stars [the most senior referees] ‘had a tremendous influence on the other officials. So, leading up to Rio they started at different competitions. They would be giving signals to each other at ringside.’
It was also important to place key figures in the right seats around the ring. The five judges are sat in different positions with judge one being best placed to lead the group because everyone else has clear sight of him or her. The investigators believe those central to the corruption were often placed in position one in rigged bouts.