Olympic Boxing Rules and Judging

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21: Tony Victor James Yoka of France and Joe Joyce of Great Britain compete during the Men's Super Heavy (+91kg) Final Bout on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 6 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Alex Livesey / Getty Images Sports / Getty Images

What are the rules for boxing at the Olympic Games? Several rule changes were made in 2013 that affected the Games from 2016 onward. These included allowing professional boxers to qualify, eliminating headgear for men, raising the minimum age to 19, and changing the scoring system.

Qualifying for Olympic Boxing 

Unlike most sports, slots are limited for Olympic boxing and just because you qualified nationally does not mean you are going to the Games. Professionals qualify through their ranking and an international Olympic qualifying tournament. Amateur boxers qualify for the Olympics through performances at regional tournaments in Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and Oceania, or at a world qualifying tournament.

Olympic Tournaments

The boxers are paired off at random for the Olympic Games, without regard to ranking. They fight in a single-elimination tournament, with the winner advancing to the next round and the loser dropping out of the competition. Winning boxers progress through the preliminary rounds to the quarterfinals and semifinals. The two semifinals winners fight for the gold and silver medals, while both losing semifinalists receive bronze medals. 

Men's bouts consist of a total of three rounds of three minutes each. Women's bouts consist of a total of four rounds of two minutes each. There is a one-minute rest interval between each round.

Contests are won by knockout or on points. Scoring was switched to the 10-point must system as of the 2016 Olympic Games.

Scoring for Olympic Boxing Through 2012

Before 2016, Olympic boxing matches were scored by hits. A panel of five judges pressed buttons when they believed the boxer had delivered a scoring hit with a marked part of the glove on the opponent's head or body above the belt. The electronic scoring system counted a point when three or more judges scored a hit within one second of each other. Under this system, the total points at the end of the bout determined the winner. Ties were determined first by who took the lead with better style, and if still a tie, by who showed the better defense.

Scoring for Olympic Boxing 2016 and Onward

As of the 2016 Olympic Games, scoring is done with the traditional 10-point must system that is commonly used in boxing. Rather than the total points, each round is scored by the five judges and a computer randomly selects three of their scores to count.

Each judge must award 10 points to the boxer they judge to have won the round within 15 seconds of the end of the round. The judging criteria are the number of target-area blows landed, domination of the bout, technique and tactical superiority, competitiveness, and infringement of the rules. The winner of the round gets 10 points, while the loser gets a lower number from six to nine points. Nine points would denote a close round, eight points a clear winner, seven points total dominance, and six points overmatched.

After the final round, each judge adds their round scores to determine a winner. In a unanimous decision, all of the judges gave the same boxer two or more rounds. If there is a disagreement among the judges, it is a split decision.


When a boxer commits a foul, he faces a caution, a warning or, in extreme cases, disqualification. Two cautions for a particular offense mean an automatic warning, and three warnings of any kind mean disqualification.

Some of the more common fouls include hitting below the belt, holding, pressing an arm or elbow into the opponent's face, forcing the opponent's head over the ropes, hitting with an open glove, hitting with the inside of the glove and hitting the opponent on the back of the head, neck or body. Others include passive defense, not stepping back when ordered to break, speaking offensively to the referee and trying to hit the opponent immediately after the order to break.

Down and Out

During a bout, a boxer is considered down if, as a result of being hit, he touches the floor with any part of his body besides his feet. He also is down if he is even partially outside the ropes or hanging on them helplessly from being hit, or if he still is standing but is judged to be unable to continue.

When a boxer is down, the referee starts counting from one to 10 seconds. The count now is timed electronically, with a beep sounding for each number, but referees often still choose to call them out. The referee also is required to signal the count to the downed boxer by holding a hand in front of him and counting with his fingers. If the boxer is still down after the 10 seconds, the opponent wins on a knockout.

Even if a boxer gets back on his feet immediately, he is obliged to take a mandatory eight-count. After the eight seconds, the referee will give the command "Box" if he feels the match should continue. If the boxer gets to his feet but falls again without receiving another blow, the referee starts counting at eight.

A boxer who is down and being counted can be saved by the bell only in the final round of the final. In all other rounds and bouts, the count continues after the bell sounds. If any boxer takes three counts in one round or four counts in the bout, the referee will stop the fight and declare the opposing boxer the winner.

Three doctors sit at ringside and each has the authority to stop a bout if medical reasons appear to necessitate it. If the referee has to stop a bout in the first round because a boxer has suffered a cut eye or a similar injury, the other boxer is declared the winner. If it happens in the second or third round, though, the judges' point tallies up to that time determine the winner.

If both boxers go down at the same time, counting continues as long as one remains down. If both remain down at 10, the boxer with the most points is declared the winner.

Other ways a boxer may be declared the winner during a bout include the referee stopping the bout because the opponent is taking too much punishment, or the opponent being disqualified or withdrawing, perhaps because of injury. Also, the opponent's seconds could decide he is suffering too much punishment and throw in the towel.

Rules for Olympic Boxers

  • Boxers are required to shake hands before the first round and after the results have been declared.
  • The age limits for Olympic boxing are a minimum age of 19 (raised from 17 in 2013) and a maximum age of 34.
  • Boxers must be clean shaven or facial hair restricted to a small mustache no longer than the length of the upper lip. Beards are banned.
  • Before every bout, a medical examiner must declare the boxers fit.
  • Boxers must weigh in every day.
  • Boxers must wear boxing gloves conforming to AIBA standards. Gloves weigh 10 ounces and feature a white strip to mark the main hitting area.
  • Competitors wear either red or blue.
  • Headgear was eliminated for men in 2013 as studies found the risk of concussion was higher for those who wore headgear.

Olympic Boxing Rings

Bouts are conducted in a square ring measuring 6.1 meters inside the ropes on each side. The floor of the ring consists of canvas stretched over a soft underlay, and it extends 45.72 centimeters outside the ropes.

Each side of the ring has four ropes running parallel to it. The lowest one runs 40.66 cm above the ground, and the ropes are 30.48 cm apart.

The corners of the ring are distinguished by colors. The corners occupied by the boxers are colored red and blue, and the other two corners, called "neutral" corners, are white.