LAUSANNE • Professional boxers will compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, after the international boxing association (Aiba) approved a constitutional change yesterday.
Its president Wu Ching-kuo said the change of the constitution was approved with 84 of 88 voting members - 95 per cent - in favour, paving the way for professionals to fight for medals for the first time at the Olympics.
"We approved it and now they can compete," he said .
The decision is however unlikely to see boxing's biggest names enter the Olympic ring in August.
For most professionals, like former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, it is already too late to take part in a qualifying contest. The last tournament is in Venezuela next month.
Wu has aggressively supported the move, arguing that the distinction between amateurs and professionals had become increasingly arbitrary. But it has drawn considerable criticism as many argue it would be unfair to amateur boxers who have trained for the Games for years and who may now have to make way for the professionals.
Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who as an amateur won gold at the 1981 and 1982 Junior Olympic Games, has branded the move "ridiculous".
"It's ridiculous, it's foolish, and some of the pro fighters are going to get beaten by the amateurs," the 49-year-old said last week.
He said the three rounds in the Olympics would work in favour of the amateurs, with professionals used to fighting as many as 12 rounds.
Under Wu's leadership, Aiba set up the semi-professional World Series Boxing (WSB) in 2011 in which fighters earned money competing for city-based teams.
He also introduced women's boxing at the 2012 London Olympics.
Some of those WSB boxers have secured places at the Rio Games.
Amateur boxing has had its share of Olympic champions who have gone on to become top professionals, among them Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.
Wu has also argued that letting the sport's best athletes compete at such a showcase event would raise boxing's profile. The admission of professional basketball to the Olympics in time for the 1992 Games in Barcelona has helped make men's basketball one of the most hotly-anticipated events of the Games.
But Aiba will have to answer questions about its dope testing policy in order to satisfy the International Olympic Committee, which is embroiled in a series of doping scandals and is battling to keep drug cheats out of the Rio Games.
A World Anti-Doping Agency report found that the Aiba has not carried out any out-of-competition tests in the year ahead of Rio, the British magazine Private Eye reported.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE