MILAN (Reuters) - Amateur boxing is attempting to steal a march on the professional ranks by launching a World Series from late 2010 which will pit franchise teams against each other in a league format.
Officials want to spice up boxing and find new audiences and funding by making it look more like a team sport.
With professional boxing splintered because of the array of different governing bodies and weight classifications, the amateur version hopes the new World Series of Boxing (WSB) can strike a chord with disaffected fans.
In Milan last week, the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) signed a World Series agreement with sports marketing agency IMG.
“There has already been a lot of work put into the World Series of Boxing and this illustrates the confidence both AIBA and IMG have in the WSB and with each other in making the project a great success,” AIBA President Ching-Kuo Wu told AIBA executive committee members.
“Now we look forward to an exciting two years ahead building up to the launch.”
The proposal has not been finalized but the idea is to have 12 franchise teams, each made up of 12 fighters, who will contest ‘matches’ consisting of a set number of bouts.
Teams from across the world will be grouped into American-style conferences, which may be split up by continent.
Franchises will face the other teams in their conference before a grand final between the best sides overall.
Much like baseball or soccer, boxers will be able to be transferred between teams, meaning a Cuban could fight for an Asian team and a Thai could box for a European side.
The majority of fighters though will come from a team’s locality.
The franchises are likely to be based and named after certain cities with media reports saying Delhi is keen to have a World Series club after middleweight boxer Vijender Kumar won a bronze for India at last year’s Beijing Games - India’s first in Olympic boxing.
Officials now say the country is ripe for boxing to try to gain a foothold among the sport-mad population.
China also caught the boxing bug during the Games with light-flyweight Zou Shiming and light-heavyweight Zhang Xiaoping grabbing the country’s first two fight gold medals.
IMG is well aware of the marketing possibilities the World Series could create.
“We look forward to working closely with AIBA and the national federations to further develop this exciting new boxing competition,” said IMG Senior Vice-President Julian Brand.
Media reports have said Moscow, Chicago, Milan and even Casablanca are among other possible host cities for the franchises.
Milan held last week’s meeting because the Italian city will host the 2009 AIBA world championships in August and September, but amateur boxing wants to make a bigger mark in Asia. The meeting decided that South Korea’s Busan will host the 2011 championships, which will act as one of the qualifiers for the 2012 London Olympics. The total of AIBA member countries now stands at 196 after the federations of Malta, Kiribati and Guam were provisionally accepted into the association during the Milan meeting.
In other moves, AIBA is to introduce official world rankings for the first time after this year’s world championships. The governing body has also asked the International Olympic Committee to allow women’s boxing at the London Games.
Editing by Dave Thompson