992 days to go Boxers, bluntly put, are being 'betrayed', according the International Olympic Committee's president Jacques Rogge. There are currently 420 of the betrayed beings in China, the world's finest amateurs from 79 countries, slugging it out in Mianyang in Sichuan in the World Championships. The few devotees that made the journey to the west have been treated to some truly great bouts there this week. But it's behind the scenes down in Sichuan that the gloves are off and things are really getting nasty. There's a lot at stake. For a start, there's about US$9 million to be fought for, not to mention the sport's reputation. And if things are not sorted out soon, some say its long-held Olympic status might also be called into question. The problem is that the IOC, and many others, believe the boxing competitions in the Athens Games have often been farcical. Or more accurately, the judging was. Even before the summer of 2004 the games organisers had long-standing concerns about how the International Boxing Association (Aiba) had been run under 82-year-old Pakistani Anwar Chowdhry, who has been at the helm for 20 years. Chowdhry and his cohorts have enraged the Swiss brigade, which now firmly believes that bribery, crooked judges and match-rigging are as much part of the pugilistic process as gumshields, black eyes and bloody noses. In Athens, question marks loomed large over the Egyptian boxers in particular, who took two bronze and a silver, by far their best Olympic result. Egyptian Ismail Osman chairs the body that appointed all the referees and judges in Athens. In boxing's computerised scoring system the five judges have a computer console with a blue and a red button, one for each fighter. When a boxer lands a legitimate punch, the judge is supposed to press the button for that fighter. Three judges must press the same colour button within a one-second time frame for a point to be awarded. But what the fans see and what score appears in the final tally often have little in common. 'What fight was that judge watching?' is an all-too-common refrain. As one coach put it: 'Imaging watching Brazil score four good goals in the World Cup final, but then at the end of the game the referee says the host team beat them 3-2. That's what boxing is often like.' 'Judged sports' have been under intense scrutiny since the scandal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, which led to duplicate gold medals being awarded to Canadian and Russian pairs figure skaters. After Athens, five sports - fencing, gymnastics, taekwondo, wrestling and boxing - were told to get their act together on the scoring and judging front. All of them have since made progress, apart from boxing, according to the International Olympic Committee. So after much behind-the-scenes pleading they finally said to hell with the Marquis of Queensberry rules and decided to hit them where it hurts - in the bank account, freezing US$9 million in payments due to the association. 'This decision will remain in force until Aiba has provided information regarding the proposed changes to the scoring system and improved the process for the selection of judges and referees,' it said. Changes are coming, albeit slowly. A more open scoring system is being tested and for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne the boxing federation will appoint a judge for each fight to judge the judges, to 'stop them favouring a certain boxer', an official said. But the progress is glacial and is not impressing the IOC which, after decades of painful deliberation, is finally ready to go toe to toe with the federation. Here's hoping fences are mended before 2008. If there's one thing you don't want to have knocking about Beijing it's a battalion of betrayed boxers. 'We thought we bought a Mercedes-Benz but ended up with a banger,' one dejected Chinese offical said this week as he watched the Masters Cup in Shanghai. And well he might groan - US$3.7 million is a fair chunk of change to hand over for a tennis tournament that rings very hollow. Ostensibly a grand tournament to wrap up the season reserved for the world's top eight players, this week's fare was a shadow of what it might have been with five of the eight withdrawing through injury. Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi pulled out on Monday. Organisers vented their anger at veteran Agassi as it was the third time he has pulled out of a Shanghai tournament in five years. But at least he turned up and gave it a go, which Andy Roddick, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt didn't. At the root of this problem is a gruelling tennis season with 70 tournaments running from January to November. Players are getting more powerful by the year, racquets are improving and the game is becoming 'violent', according to 35-year-old Agassi. Long gone are the days when players like John McEnroe would win a singles game and then potter off to play a doubles match. Top players in both the men's and women's game are physically falling apart by season's end. All bad for tennis but good for touts, it seems. The organisers of the Shanghai tournament, in an effort to appease fans who were feeling ripped off, announced during the week that anyone who bought a ticket to this year's event would get a 40 per cent discount for next year's tournament. All fans had to do was to retain their ticket counterfoil, they said. Sounds simple, but they didn't consider the city's enterprising and opportunistic hustlers. When fans boarded the free bus from the stadium back to the city, 'inspectors' collected their counterfoils, saying it was required to allow them to travel free of charge. Only after a couple of days did officials realise they hadn't employed inspectors and the diligent workers were actually touts with their eye on next year's black market.