Boxing-Transparency key for sport's turnaround after chequered past

FILE PHOTO: July 19, 2021; Tokyo, JAPAN; A detail photograph of Olympic boxing gloves ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

TOKYO (Reuters) - Transparency and gender equality are the highlights for boxing at the Tokyo Olympics as the sport aims to turn the page on the acrimonious 2016 Games which was marred by persistent disputes over judging quality.

A task force is in charge of running the Tokyo competition in place of the International Boxing Association (AIBA), which was suspended in 2019 by the International Olympic Committee and stripped of any involvement in the Tokyo Games over a string of governance, finance and ethical issues.

New transparency measures have been introduced under boxing task force chief Morinari Watanabe, such as displaying each judge's score at the end of every round and independent third-party supervision, vetting and selection of judges and referees.

New Zealander David Nyika, who will compete in the men's heavy category in Tokyo, said with the problem of unfair judging addressed, boxers would have one less thing to worry about when they get into the ring.

"I know I'm not the only athlete that feels that they've been on the receiving end of unfair judging," he told reporters.

"It's a massive step in the right direction and I really hope that these changes that are being implemented can stand strong and continue to be a part of our sport which is so ancient and so special to so many different cultures."

Ireland's lightweight boxer Kellie Harrington feels announcing the score after every round will not only improve transparency but also spice up a fight, making it more interesting for those watching.

"The fact that when you come back now and you do find out whether you're up, or you're down, it does help, because you can turn the fight," Harrington said.

"A fight can always change after a round, the fight can always change after one point, so it helps a lot to get those round-by-round scores, and everyone's grateful for a reading and it actually makes boxing quite tasty."

Boxing starts on Saturday and continues till the last day of the Games on Aug. 8, and will be held at Tokyo's Kokugikan Arena, which is considered the spiritual home of Japan's national sport - sumo wrestling. The centre was recently utilised as a COVID-19 vaccination centre.

Tokyo 2020 organisers said on Friday that three more athletes had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 11 since the start of the month.

Asked if athletes in the Games Village were concerned, Harrington said she was not worried about the infections and adhering to the protocols, keeping her focus on preparing for the competition.

Harrington lauded the task force for increasing women's weight divisions at Tokyo to five from three in Rio de Janeiro, ensuring more participation from her fellow pugilists. The men's weight divisions have been decreased to eight from 10.

"It opens the door to a lot more female athletes who thought that they hadn't got a shot at getting to one of the big Games and now here they are," the 31-year-old added.

"And here I am also. So that's just been fantastic."

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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