Barnes and Conlan welcome vote to include professionals

The Irish duo are unfazed by the decision to include professionals in Rio this summer

Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan have welcomed the decision to allow professional boxers to compete at the Rio 2016 Games, but both Irish Olympians have expressed doubts over how many pro fighters will attempt to compete at the tournament.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) yesterday formally ratified a change to their statutes, which will theoretically allow professional boxers to fight in Rio.

Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) president Pat Ryan was among those present at the extraordinary congress in Lausanne, Switzerland where a reported 95 per cent of delegates voted for the motion.

Traditional divide

It is the latest in a series of steps AIBA have taken to blur the traditional divide between what was amateur boxing (now dubbed ‘Olympic Boxing’ by AIBA) and the pro game, but subtle and obvious differences remain.


Notably, traditional ‘amateur’ or Olympic Boxing still takes place over three three-minute rounds, meaning bouts are usually contested at a faster pace than world-championship professional fights which last 12 rounds.

“It’s like a Grand National horse racing in a mile-long race against a horse that’s competing in the 1,000 Guineas – obviously the horse from the 1,000 Guineas is going to win,” said two-time Olympic medallist Barnes, dismissing the idea that professionals will find it easy competing against ‘amateur’ boxers.

Many pundits and former fighters such as Lennox Lewis have raised concerns about the safety of amateurs against professionals, but Belfast bantamweight Conlan – Ireland's first-ever male world amateur champion – claimed he is offended by the suggestion.

“Some people still think it’s like the old days where the ‘amateurs’ were actually proper amateurs and they didn’t have any strength. That’s quite annoying because it’s insulting [modern] amateur fighters,” said Conlan, who trains full-time and is one of a number of elite amateur boxers on the Irish High Performance squad in receipt of Government funding via Sport Ireland.

“We’re more professional than the professionals with how hard we train. Even the strength and conditioning and the science behind it, we have more than a lot of professionals,” added the 24-year-old, whose views were echoed by 29-year-old Barnes.

“People are saying amateur boxers are going to get hurt and they’re novices . . . you can’t go to the Olympics if you’re a novice or if you’re a kid,” said Barnes.

“The only reason there’s so many knockouts in pro boxing is because the gloves are different from the amateur boxers’ ones that are spongy. These ‘knockout artists’ in the pro game wouldn’t knock out anyone in the amateurs.

“Also, for weigh-ins, professional boxers weigh in a day before the fight, amateur boxers weigh in on the day of the fight . . . There’s so many things in the amateur boxers’ favour,” added Barnes, who along with Conlan qualified for the Rio Games via AIBA’s semi-professional World Series of Boxing.

Yesterday’s vote means all ‘non-AIBA professional boxers’ under the age of 40 are now eligible to register with their national federations for the APB/WSB Olympic Qualification Tournament in Vargas, Venezuela next month if they comply with anti-doping regulations.

Irish professionals such as world champion Carl Frampton criticised the change, but, in reality, it seems unlikely to have any major impact on this summer's Games in Rio.

Seven Irish boxers have qualified for Rio, while four more still have a chance to book their places this month.