OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Boxing: Boxers suffer from push-button justice: Ken Jones reports how Ireland's finalists must take on the computer as well as the Cubans in the ring tonight

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The Independent Online
AS THE Irish proved when engaging an English hero to manage their football team successfully, they are not reluctant to seek foreign aid in the sports arena.

First Jack Charlton, then Nicholas Cruz, a professor from the Havana Sports Institute who has so improved Irish prospects in the four years he has been advising their amateur boxers that two have reached the Olympic finals in Barcelona.

It remains to be seen whether Wayne McCullough, a gutsy bantamweight, and Michael Carruth in the welterweight division can complete their convincing progress by gaining gold medals, but at least they are handily placed to reduce the number of times Cuba's anthem will ring out at Pavello Club in Badalona.

This brings Cruz into direct conflict with Alcides Sagarra, a remarkable compatriot who for almost 30 years has been sending out a stream of amateur champions including Teofilo Stevenson, the renowned heavyweight who devastated so many opponents when winning three successive Olympic championships that he was tempted with offers to challenge Muhammad Ali.

It is widely acknowledged that Sagarra is the equal of any professional trainer, his methods drawing admiration from such notable figures as Eddie Futch and Angelo Dundee.

After a 12-year absence from the Olympic arena, Cuba have nine men in the finals, including opponents for the Irish, utterly dominating the tournament to the embarrassment of the United States, traditionally their greatest rivals, who have suffered some terrible disappointments.

This has something to do with the erratic results of a computer scoring system introduced after charges of incompetence and politically motivated prejudice were brought at the 1988 Games in Seoul.

Because mistakes are inevitable when attempting to determine which of two boxers has landed the cleanest blows, it is difficult to imagine that any method would eliminate controversy, but many of the judgements arrived at in Barcelona have been ludicrous.

Nobody suffered more than Eric Griffin, the US light-flyweight, a four-times world champion and hottest favourite for a gold medal until he was outpointed in the quarter-finals by Rafael Lozano of Spain.

The computer, which only accepts that a point has been scored when three of five judges similtaneously press a button within a second, had Griffin behind 6-5 at the final bell. When it was then revealed that all the judges and their deputies had the American ahead in overall scoring, he was even more devastated. Privately, in a small anteroom, he burst into tears when consoled by Bob Jordan, a computer salesman from Jasper, Tennessee, who has sponsored him for the last four years.

'They robbed me Bob, they stole our dream,' he said. Later he would say, 'I know that I hit Lozano 35 to 40 times. I hit him with clean shots. But I guess I gave it to the home-town boy. Or maybe the judges pressed the wrong button.'

The US were equally mortified when Montell Griffin lost to Torsten May, of Germany, in the welterweight division. The German had a bad gash along his right eyebrow that bled profusely, but the Argentinian referee and a Cuban judge allowed the bout to continue. With about 50 seconds remaining in the final round, Griffin was penalised three points for dropping his head low on to May's chest even though he is 10 inches the smaller man. It resulted in a 6-4 defeat that sent Griffin rushing to his dressing-room in despair.

If the computer system has aroused most controversy, there have been enough questionable decisions reached inside the ring to raise allegations of bias.

For example, yesterday in the presence of King Carlos, who took a seat high above the ring, Faustino Reyes of Spain was judged to have outpointed Ramazi Paliani of the Unified Team, who lost three points for holding in the final round. If a hugely popular verdict with the locals and their monarch, it did not tally with a lot of the scoring in the press seats.

No doubts were justified when Robin Reid, the last British representative was outpointed by Orhan Delibas, of the Netherlands, in the light-middleweight semi-final.

Reid, a bookmakers clerk from Runcorn, had taken odds of 5-1 with Ladbrokes, his employers, to get a gold. This indicated generosity on their part. Against a counter-puncher who made good use of the ring, Reid never got going and quickly fell behind on the computer. Boxing with an affectionate message a girlfriend had painted on the back of his headguard, Reid never looked to have a chance of emulating Chris Finnegan, the last Briton to win an Olympic championship. In the final he would have run into Juan Carlos Lemus Garcia, one of Cuba's best men. Better to settle for a bronze.

(Photograph omitted)