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Rumble in Tokyo: Coaches want headgear back for male boxers

Bruises, cuts, knock-out and a bizarre protest, boxing competition at the Olympics on Sunday was full of explosive action at Tokyo’s Kokugikan Arena.

Several boxers have received cuts and been subjected to head butts in the ring, reviving a debate whether male boxers need to once again fight with head guard on.

The final bout of the morning session was a heated affair between France’s Mourad Aliev and Frazer Clarke. With seconds left in the second round of the superheavyweight quarterfinal, Aliev was disqualified by the referee for intentionally head-butting Clarke, who already had significant cuts near both eyes.

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Aliev sat on the edge of the ring, just outside the ropes in protest, reminding one of the South Korean protest during the 1988 Seoul Games. It sent officials and the International Olympic Committee’s boxing task force into a tizzy. The French team members brought him water, spoke to him, but Aliev refused to budge for 30 minutes.

“The decision was so unfair,” said Aliev. “I wanted to fight against all that injustice, and honestly today my teammates also had unfair results. I trained my whole life for this, came here, and because of one referee’s decision, I lost.”

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Officials of the task force that is running the competition spoke to Aliev and the French team. Aliev went inside the Kokugikan Arena, only to return in 15 minutes and resume his protest. He finally left, but slammed the referring and task force officials.

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Clarke entered the semi-final, confirming a medal. “I felt there were a couple of heads going in there,” he said. “Whether it was intentional or not, that’s not for me to say. … I told (Aliev afterwards) to calm down. “You’re not thinking with your head. You’re thinking with your heart. I know it’s hard, but the best thing to do is go back to the changing room”.”

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Earlier in the session, Ukraine’s Oleksandr Khyzhniak and Domician Cedeno Martinez went for broke in their middleweight semi-final bout. Khyzhniak landed some powerful hooks to subdue Martinez. Marcial Eumir of Philipinnes knocked out Arman Darchinyan of Armenia.

The talking point among coaches though has been concerns that cuts and clash of heads can lead to concussion and hence a strong voice to go back to headgear in boxing. Headgear for men was removed during the Rio Olympics, like professional boxing. The recommendations of the International Boxing Association’s (AIBA) medical commission had pointed out that use of headgear leads to more concussions and facial contusions. AIBA experimented in the 2013 and 2015 world championships.

Coaches have been vehement about bringing the head gear back. Santiago Nieva, India’s high-performance director and member of the world boxing body AIBA’s coaches committee, said that headgear should be brought back.

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“We should go back to headgear. I have raised the issue and many of the coaches are in favour of it. But there is a long process to be followed to bring it back.”

Nieva said he has counted around 39 cuts during the competition. “It is much more. Head clashes are not good for the boxers.

“In amateur boxing the fight is of very high intensity because it is only nine minutes and there is high urgency to score. It is impossible to avoid head clashes. It has nothing to do with professional boxers competing in the Olympics,” he said.

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Italy coach Emanuele Renzini agreed. “The risk of injuries has increased since headgear was removed. You see this in every competition. We have to discuss this issue with the AIBA technical committee.”

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