AIBA introduces AI-based technology to boxing; how will it improve sport’s image?

Suspended by the IOC in 2019, AIBA’s decision to introduce AI-based technology into boxing bouts has already raised the hope about the sport’s inclusion in the Paris Olympics under the purview of its governing body.

AI-based technology is expected to deliver more accurate bout results.

Last week, the international governing body for amateur boxing (AIBA) introduced a military technology to boxing, with an aim to clean up the ambiguity and biased decisions in boxing bouts. It is AIBA’s first major step towards eradicating corruption and bout manipulation since being suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2019.

The military approved artificial intelligence voice analysis and cyber technology systems to analyse judges and referees was used for the first time at the recently-concluded AIBA World Championships for men in Belgrade.

There has been a long-standing plea for the use of technology in boxing bouts for more accurate verdicts. In the existing system, judges’ decisions often drew criticism from both the boxers and the national associations. Both complained of biased decisions. There were many cases in which finding a clear winner was difficult and both players claimed victory. But judges, as per their assessment, chose the winner.

The new technology had screened judges and referees at the world championships in Belgrade. It has already gone down well among the boxing fraternity when two officials were removed from the officiating pool after being questioned by an automated phone questionnaire, which has been dubbed a tool to put AIBA’s “house in order”.

How will new AI tool clean up the image of boxing?

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Representational image

The technology will pose questions to the officials, using an artificial intelligence voice analysis system (phone), and grade officials as low, medium or high risk as it did in the case of two removed officials.

So far no official refused to undergo the process, which measures the cognitive functions through the caller’s responses to questions such as “Have you ever cheated in a boxing event?”

Giving details of the technology, Richard McLaren, AIBA’s integrity expert appointed in June 2021, clarified that the technology is not a lie detector nor it has any similarity with the former which is used in military, diplomatic and insurance sectors by analysing the “cognitive functions of the brain through voice responses”.

“It measures the cognitive functions of the brain in the verbal responses and – given pertinent questions – finds whether that person is low risk, medium risk, high risk in terms of being an official at the championships,” McLaren was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

“The technology uses pertinent questions, such as ‘have you ever cheated in a boxing event’. With the use of such questions we measure risk from an individual regarding certain events of manipulation or potential corruption,” McLaren added.

Background research

In the first phase of the trial, initiated before the AIBA World Championships for men, background research on the technology was done. Their social media profiles, business interests and other details were passed along to McLaren’s team.

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Richard McLaren is AIBA’s integrity test.

The automated phone questionnaire was part of the second phase, with follow-up interviews.

During this process, two officials were found not ideal for officiating bouts, while two more were axed in Belgrade after being flagged as suspicious by the AI tool.

What forced AIBA to opt for the AI tool?

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International Olympic Committee suspended the International Boxing Association (AIBA) in 2019 for corrupt practices.

In September 2021, an independent investigation led by McLaren of AIBA exposed bout manipulation at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The report found widespread evidence of “corruption, bribery and the manipulation of sporting results” – with judges giving each other signals at ringside to fix bouts.

McLaren, who came into the limelight when he exposed state-sponsored doping in Russia and uncovered doping cover-ups in weightlifting in June 2020, is part of the AIBA’s governance renovation process. In 2019, IOC suspended AIBA after a six-month investigation amid concerns regarding the boxing body’s governance, finances and refereeing and judging.

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, IOC’s task force conducted the boxing events at the Tokyo Olympics, and a decision on boxing’s inclusion in the Paris Olympics under the purview of AIBA will be taken soon.