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Despite controversy, pro boxers will be allowed at 2016 Rio Olympics

2012 Olympics Day 5 - Boxing Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

A big change is coming to Olympic Boxing, and it will begin this summer.

Starting with the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, professional boxers will be allowed to compete in the Olympics. This is a change from the long-standing policy that kept the Olympics focused solely on amateurs. This move has been discussed for the past few months, but was officially approved earlier this week by sanctioning body AIBA. AIBA does not expect to see many professionals in Rio given the short notice, but are looking ahead at getting pro boxers to Tokyo in 2020.

One country that will not be sending in any professional boxers, at least in 2016, is the United States. USA Boxing made the following statement:

USA Boxing appreciates AIBA's continuing efforts toward the evolution of international boxing, and we recognize that the admission of professional boxers is an inevitable development. However, USA Boxing's Olympic selection procedures, on which our amateur athletes have relied for the past two years, preclude us from making the last-minute changes that would be required to invite professionals to compete. We believe that many other countries face similar difficulties, and in fairness to our athletes who have already been selected to fulfill their Olympic dreams, we abstained from voting for the proposed change of the eligibility rules.

Other organizations have been more vocal in their dislike of the rule change. The California State Athletic Commission released a very clear statement against the change, stating:

This decision is troubling and appears to ignore our collective responsibility to protect and promote the health and safety of fighters, particularly amateur boxers... This was a bad deal made in spite of and in opposition to the input of the boxing community including fighters, trainers, regulatory and sanctioning bodies and the National Association of Ringside Physicians. This decision was made by individuals seemingly influenced by financial gain and is not in the best interest of the tradition and fine art of boxing. This move puts all amateur fighters at grave risk.

At one point, recently retired Hall of Fame fighter Manny Pacquiao was considering fighting for the Philippines in Rio, however he has since stated that he will not be taking part, and will instead focus on his political career.

We will get a better sense of just how many professional boxers will be in Rio in early July as the Olympic boxing qualification tournament will take place in Venezuela the first week of July.

Already approved earlier this year was the removal of protective headgear for male fighters at the Rio Olympics (women will still wear the headgear). This move came after numerous studies showed that headgear actually increased the occurrence of concussions and other trauma to the head.

UPDATE: The WBC has also released a statement very strongly opposed to this change, and in fact have stated that they will ban pros who compete in the Olympics:

The WBC has taken a stance and decided that any WBC champion and top-15 rated in our rankings is forbidden to participate until clear guidelines and safety measures are in place. If they do they will be banned from the WBC for two years.