By Bernard O’Neill
AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu would probably have made a formidable southpaw.
As he outlines his grand plans for the future of the sport, plans that have been described as revolutionary, his left hand occasionally emphasises his point with a fairly solid looking, but discreet, left jab.
A man of undoubted character, Dr Wu’s combines his passion for the sport with an evident concern for its participants, both inside and outside the ring.
The AIBA chief was in Dublin last year as a guest of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA)
In the build up to the Centenary year of the IABA he vowed that he would travel to the Irish capital to celebrate the 100th birthday of Ireland’s most successful Olympic sport.
He remained true to that vow, arriving in Ireland – following a 25-hour trip across from his native Chinese Taipei – for the opening bell of the IABA hosted 2011 European Youth Championships, the flagship tournament of the IABA’s Centenary celebrations, at the Citywest Hotel Convention Centre in Dublin.
Dr Wu, Taiwan’s representative on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was elected AIBA President in Santo Domingo in November 2006 and immediately set about transforming boxing’s governing body into a professionally run organisation.
His ascendency was timely to say the least, as AIBA, under the previous discredited hierarchy of the late Anwar Chowdhry, was staring into the abyss amid the withholding of IOC funds and allegations of corruption.
Ominously, the sport’s Olympic status – stretching back as far as the 1904 Games in St Louis – was on the ropes. Dr Wu, however, ushered in a new era of transparency and accountability.
Five years later the 64-year-old is spearheading a drive to introduce the ground-breaking AIBA Professional Boxing (APB) program which will be rolled out in 2013. There will be three levels of APB, International, Continental and National.
International APB boxers will be ranked 1 to 20 , while Continental APB boxers will be ranked 21 to 50 and National APB boxers 51 and up in ten weight categories.
Additionally, APB boxers, who won’t have to hang up their gloves until aged 40, will also retain their Olympic status. The APB program is the logical continuation of the World Series of Boxing (WSB), the opening bell of which tolled across three continents last year.
Ireland’s Ken Egan, John Joe Nevin – Nevin’s Paris United side won the Team Championships – John Joe Joyce, David Oliver Joyce, Tommy McCarthy and Eamon O’Kane competed in the inaugural WSB season.
The WSB Individual Championships, reserved for the top ranked boxers from the WSB Team Championships, also yielded five berths for the 2012 Olympic games in London.
The WSB is now being followed by the APB, and Dr Wu, a former captain of the Tung-Hai University basketball team, says they will begin the signing up process immediately after the conclusion of the 2011 AIBA World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan in October.
“This (APB) is part of my ambition, a very important ambition. AIBA must have the future. Olympic boxing amateur has been going on for many years. Last year we had the World Series of Boxing (WSB). The first season proved very, very successful. Now we have two new teams joining, Germany and India, said Dr Wu.
“That is for the team competition, professional rules. I think the next step is to have have full professional boxing under AIBA. For the Olympic Games we will only select thirty six boxers from APB.
“They can go to the Olympics based on their rankings; the top eight categories, four boxers each, and 91Kg and 91Kg+ two boxers each. After the World Championships in Baku we will start the signing of certain boxers, reserved for the APB.”
Dr Wu is more than aware of the fact that the sport loses some of its top stars to the professional game after each Olympic and AIBA World Championship cycle.
Amateur boxing tends to collectively shrug its shoulders at this hemorrhaging of talent and goes back and rears the next crop. However, most pro promoters, having availed of the prospects that were nurtured in amateur boxing clubs throughout the world, give little or nothing back to the sport at grassroots level.
Compare and contrast with football. If a young footballer, having learned his trade with a schoolboy side in Dublin, lets say, signs for Manchester United then the schoolboy club in question would be entitled to a certain amount of compensation in recognition of their contribution to his development.
Considering the vast amounts of money changing hands in the top echelons of professional football the compensation in question is relatively miniscule. However, the sport is at least symbolically recognising that without the grassroots there can be no professional game.
However, if that footballer was a boxer that learned the ropes with one of Ireland’s clubs and then went on to win a World pro title – and a massive purse – at Madison Square Garden the boxing club in question would receive nothing – whilst a promoter pockets a sizable percentage – except maybe a patronising mention in the fight report.
Dr Wu is seeking to change that culture and wants to safeguard the future of boxers under the AIBA umbrella.
“I would like to change AIBA as the ultimate responsible body for the boxer’s entire boxing career, including amateur and professional, and would like to give more opportunities to all our boxers to compete with a stable financial status and as respected role models for young generations.
“I would like to make AIBA the true governing body to support all National Federations and grassroots, including clubs, by generating more revenues from the APB program.”
Following his 2006 election, Dr Wu set in motion plans to have women’s boxing included as an Olympic sport. Last year the International Olympic Committee announced that the female version of the noble art would make its debut at the London 2012 Olympics, over 100 years after men’s boxing debuted at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis.
“In my 2006 campaign, running for the election, one of my very important ambitions was that women’s boxing should be in the Olympic Games. Boxing was the only sport without women. I talked to the IOC President, Jacques Rogge, explaining. He was fully supportive. He said, okay, let’s do it.
“I can tell you. At the Olympic Games next year in London the IOC President has confirmed with me that he will be there for the first match of the women’s boxing.”
The AIBA head also acknowledged the part that Ireland’s Katie Taylor, the current World, European and EU champ and two-time AIBA World female boxer of the year, played in helping to promote female pugilism as an Olympic sport.
“I think Katie Taylor is not only a good boxer but that she has absolutely the right image. She’s a very, very good boxer and she also demonstrates very good sportsmanship. She is a very good model for the future of women’s boxing.”
Dr Wu, who spends most of his year traveling the globe promoting and outlining his vision for the sport, also voiced his concern at the dwindling support for amateur boxing in its present guise.
“I think boxing must see the future. I travel and I observe the spectator reduction. That is a sign. If we don’t make any change we will gradually lose all the interest from the people.”
Meantime, some of the athletes – including Irish boxers – competing at the European Youth Championships in Dublin undoubtedly have the talent to advance and make an impression at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
And as they approach the 31st Olympiad the two sides of what has often been the disparate coin of amateur and pro boxing will continue to merge under the revolutionary vision of Dr Wu and AIBA.
“I am deeply determined to change the image and reputation of our sport with transparency, popularity and social contribution by taking the responsibility of managing the destines of the sport of boxing in all forms.”
Dr Wu and AIBA has put together a blueprint to reconstruct boxing under their auspices whilst also protecting the welfare of its participants inside and outside the squared circle.
It’s a ground breaking project, a protect that will transform the sport and offer its participants a viable alternative to the excesses of the pro game under the jurisdiction of the various governing bodies.
Dr Wu has promised to rejuvenate what many consider to be the moribund culture of the sport as it heads into the second decade of the 21st century. It’s his vow to the future.
And, as Dr John Lynch, Chairman of the IABA Board of Directors LTD, IABA President Tommy Murphy and IABA CEO Don Stewart will vouch, the AIBA President is a man that always remains true to his vow.