There’s a whiff of something rotten in the air, and it’s trailing the Azerbaijani boxing team at the London Olympics.
Forget about the badminton scandal that featured Chinese, South Korean, and Indonesian players throwing matches. Perhaps the most egregious behavior so far at these Olympic Games has been the boxing officiating - and Azerbaijani boxers have just happened to be the beneficiaries of two of the most controversial decisions.
The latest result to prompt howls of disbelief was Azerbaijan heavyweight Teymur Mammadov’s decision August 5 over Siarhei Karneyu of Belarus. Boxing commentators who watched the fight said Mammadov should have been disqualified in the third round for a clear rule violation.
But it turned out that if the bout’s referee had one more eye, he’d be a Cyclops.
“This was as big a travesty as we've seen so far,” boxing commentator Scott Christ wrote on the Bad Left Hook blog, referring to the scoring in the Mammadov fight.
NBC boxing analyst Teddy Atlas offered perhaps the most memorable comment on the officiating, when, after the Mammadov bout, he said: “I’m going to start keeping a bucket here near ringside, because I want to throw up.”
The Mammadov decision followed on the heels of a bantamweight bout, in which Azerbaijani fighter Muhammed Abdulahmidov got pummeled, and yet was declared the winner. That decision, however, was overturned on appeal.
Given the involvement of Azerbaijani boxers in the worst of the worst bouts, aficionados are wondering whether Baku has tried to buy success in the London Olympic ring. Some are pointing to a British Broadcasting Corp. expose, aired in 2011, about a controversial payment
that Azerbaijan made to an affiliate of the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
“You can expect a protest,” wrote Christ, the blogger, about the Mammadov decision. “And given the Azerbaijan involvement, expect extra attention on said protest, if it happens.”
It’s also notable that the AIBA has expelled an Azerbaijani citizen from the London games, Aghajan Abiyev, who is described as a technical official. The AIBA hasn’t offered a detailed explanation for its action on Abiyev.
Back home, Abiyev serves as the vice president of Azerbaijan’s Boxing Federation. An interview that he gave to the APA news agency back in late July is worth a second look. In it, Abiyev seemed very confident that the Azerbaijani team would do well in London. “It will not be a big problem for our famous boxers to win medal in the Olympics,” he predicted at the time.
Ultimately, the controversial decisions so far could tarnish genuine accomplishments. For example, Azerbaijani Super Heavyweight Muhammadrasul Majidov has made it to the medal round. But if he walks away with some hardware, boxing fans are going to wonder whether it was earned, or if it was purchased.