OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Boxers keen to prove a point: Ken Jones reports from Barcelona on the new scoring system which may help boxing to win its fight for survival at the Games

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The Independent Online
SYMPATHY for the notion that boxing should be cut from the Olympics is based not so much on brutal and tragic images of the sport as the strife that has consistently erupted outside the ring.

Considering that the ancient Greeks did not go much on the royal and ancient game, traditionalists may be offended by suggestions that the Olympics would be better represented by golf, but in the light of history Juan Antonio Samaranch may have a substantial case.

Certainly, if boxing becomes in Barcelona the problem it was in Seoul four years ago when pathetic judgement resulted in quite ludicrous verdicts, and a New Zealand referee was attacked by irate Korean officials, it will not survive as an Olympic sport.

Coming under close scrutiny by the International Olympic Committee it is now relying for salvation on the effectiveness of a computerised scoring system devised to eliminate controversy.

As points are only scored when three of five judges simultaneously press a button, nobody believes that the wonders of modern science can eliminate human error. Indeed, Dan Tappi, who coached the US Olympic teams of 1976, 1980 and 1984, was so opposed to the introduction of technology that he resigned in protest.

The effect of experiences beginning at the 1989 World Amateur Championships in Moscow, is manifest in a phoney fighting style based on the obvious conclusion that while the judges may not clearly observe body punches they immediately react to a scoring jab.

According to Ian Irwin, a Cumbrian from Windermere and one of two coaches with the Great Britain team, the trick is to give them time. 'Score, step out, score again,' he was saying this week in an airy gymasium near to the Olympic Stadium. In common with many of his contemporaries, Irwin is not entirely happy with a system that places undue emphasis on head punches. 'Particularly, it worries me at junior level,' he said. 'You want young boxers to broaden their ability to avoid as well as deliver blows, so the concentration on one type of punch is worrying.'

When the Olympic tournament gets under way tomorrow none of the competitors is likely to show greater mastery of the required technique than Eric Griffin of the United States, twice the world champion at light-flyweight, and thought to be among the favourites for a gold medal.

Griffin who was thrown out of the US trials in 1988 after traces of marijuana showed up in a routine drug test, has won all five contests against Rogelio Marcello, of Cuba, the only man capable of testing him. 'I'm tired of Marcello. I have his number. He cannot beat me,' Griffin said this week.

As the Cubans have not taken part in the Olympics since 1980, it is difficult to assess their potential although Roberto Balado looks most likely to succeed Lennox Lewis as the gold medallist at super-heavyweight.

Britain will fulfill all Irwin's expectations if they gain four medals, but only Adrian Dodson at welterweight looks to have a

realistic chance. Dodson who represented Guyana as Adrian Carew in Seoul did not endear himself to reporters this week when refusing to be interviewed.

A particular problem for the Americans is the fact that their boxers, unlike those in most other countries, including Britain, are permitted to spar with professionals.

For example, Oscar De La Hoya, a talented lightweight from Los Angeles who already has an agreement with the promoters of Evander Holyfield, the Finkel- Duva organisation, has had to abandon moves learned from working with Julio Cesar Chavez, the professional champion.

'From him I learned the value of patience,' De La Hoya said, 'but that will not be of any use to me in the Olympics. Patience is a big thing for pros, but with the new scoring system you have to start quickly in order to avoid falling behind. In fact I've had to forget about some of the things Julio taught me.'

Thus boxing clings precariously to its Olympic status, beset by the lasting effect of past controversies, and growing pressure from abolitionists. It will not take much more to bring about expulsion.