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LONDON (Reuters) - More than 50 professional boxers will compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, according to International Boxing Association (AIBA) president Wu Ching-Kuo.
"They will definitely be in Rio," Wu told Reuters in London where he was watching the final of the AIBA's World Series of Boxing (WSB) season between Dynamo Moscow and Milano Thunder.
"Look at the Olympic program of other sports like basketball, volleyball and handball, they have professionals and we are the only organization that doesn't," he said.
Launched in 2011, WSB featured 12 city franchises this year with teams of five competing against each other to reach the final staged in London's ExCel Centre, the venue for this year's Olympic tournament, on Wednesday.
Next year will see the launch of AIBA Professional Boxing (APB) a professional tournament without vests or head guards in which boxers will receive regular salaries.
"In Rio there will be 56 boxers from the APB and 10 qualified through the WBS individual finals," Wu said.
APB, Wu's brainchild, would mean that boxers coming through the amateur ranks would not have to turn their backs on the Olympic Games in their prime by going down the established professional route, he said.
Any boxer earning a living as a professional in the APB would still be eligible to compete at the Olympics.
In the past, Olympic medalists such as Britain's Amir Khan, who won a silver in Athens in 2004 when still a teenager, have quickly turned professional to cash in on their success.
"It will improve the quality of the boxing competition in the Olympic Games because the top boxers will be able to earn a good living without going down the normal route," said Taiwan's Wu, who took over the presidency of the AIBA in 2006.
"In the past, the best boxers from the Olympic Games and World Championships were wasted by the professional bodies. Let's just say there were many talented boxers who were entered into the wrong competitions and weights by the bodies and were not successful. They couldn't return to amateur boxing, and ultimately disappeared from the boxing world."
Wu said APB could even start to rival the appeal of the traditional professional boxing bodies such as the World Boxing Association (WBA) and World Boxing Council (WBC).
"I think there are many pro organizations," he said. "I think they will all be watching what happens with APB."
Milano Thunder won the WSB title on Wednesday with Beijing heavyweight silver medalist Clemente Russo in their ranks.
Next year the competition could be expanded to 16 teams with Ukraine, Bulgaria and Argentina likely to be represented.
Editing by Clare Fallon