Boxing: Attorney to question O'Connell

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The Independent Online
LARRY O'CONNELL has been asked by the State Attorney General's office in New York to answer questions about Saturday's controversial unification world heavyweight title fight.

They have asked the judge, who scored Lennox Lewis's draw against Evander Holyfield 115-115, to fly to America, but the British Boxing Board of Control have written back saying that O'Connell, an engraver by profession, will not be present, because of business pressures.

The Board secretary, John Morris, has asked State Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer to fax the questions. If required, O'Connell will answer in a sworn affidavit.

The American officials have not said if similar requests have been made of the other judges, Stanley Christadoulou (who scored the fight 116-113 to Lewis) and New Jersey's Eugenia Williams (115-113 to Holyfield). Lewis's promoter, Panos Eliades, may also be called to the State Attorney's office.

The web of "very twisted" relationships between sanctioning bodies and fighters, promoters and judges helped produce the draw, Spitzer said. His criticism came as the Manhattan district attorney's office said it is investigating possible illegalities. The New York State Athletic Commission and the New York State Senate Committee on Investigations are also conducting inquiries, making four in total.

Spitzer said his public hearing, which will begin tomorrow in New York, will focus on ways states or federal government can "redefine" the roles of the principal players in the sport.

Spitzer said boxing's chief sanctioning bodies, the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association, risk conflicts of interest by selecting judges for title bouts and paying their expenses and fees.

When a judge selected by a governing body backs that body's champion despite evidence that his opponent did better during the bout - as the IBF-selected judge, Williams, is under fire for doing - that calls into question the impartiality of the judging and the integrity of the sport, according to Spitzer.

Spitzer is chairman of a boxing task force within the National Association of Attorneys General which has been working with Senator John McCain of Arizona to develop recommendations to reform the sport nationally.

New York Governor George Pataki said the inquiry he has ordered by the state Athletic Commission will concentrate on making recommendations on what the state can do to guarantee that fights held in New York are judged impartially.

The state Senate Committee on Investigations said it would hold a hearing today in New York City, with Lewis likely to be on conference call.

The WBC president, Jose Sulaiman, said that Lewis was robbed and criticised the International Boxing Federation's choice of judges. "We opposed it because [Williams] lacks experience and furthermore comes from the same country as Holyfield." he said. "We had a judge from Belgium, but seeing Holyfield's advantage we swapped ours for a judge from England." But he said O'Connell went too far in trying to appear impartial.

"He was so honest that despite the fact that our champion clearly won, he decided not to give victory to Lewis so that people would not think he had acted in a partial manner," Sulaiman suggested.