At the time of writing, British boxer Nick Blackwell is still in an induced coma following his bout with Chris Eubank Jr at the weekend. All connected with the sport will wish him a speedy recovery.
Events such as this bring the predictable but understandable lobby calling for the sport to be banned.
I am an experienced academic who also spent several years working in hospitals. I am also a member of the Eastburn Amateur Boxing Club although I do not actively box myself. I have written blogs on safety in sport before. So why do I seek to defend this sport despite its inherent danger?
Boxing is dangerous, this risks are well known and there is no getting away from that. When Nick Blackwell and Chris Eubank Jr entered the ring on Saturday night, they made a conscious decision to put themselves at risk. Both were in extremely good physical condition thanks to their dedication and training regime. Both were also subject to the medical scrutiny of the sport's controlling body. Neither their advanced physical fitness or the medical control represented a guarantee of safety. The rewards in terms of sporting kudos and finance can be spectacular and each participant and those that surround them have to make decisions as to the risk-benefit of pursuing a career in this sport. Deaths and serious injury are rare but they are a stark reality.
Of fundamental importance, and a lesson that boxing has had to learn, is the importance of ringside medical attention. The concept of the "Golden hour" for trauma medicine is one that identified that the patient management within the first hour post trauma is crucial for the ultimate outcome of the patient. More recently, the notion of the "Platinum Ten Minutes" arose from conflict medicine and, whilst the time period is only an approximation, the crucial need for speedy medical intervention followed by transfer to the most appropriate neurology unit is there. The television coverage of the bout shied away from showing the medical care out of respect for the boxer and his family but the presenter did refer to an anesthetist being present which will have been of great benefit.
Defenders of boxing such as myself have a tendency to point to the risks of other sports. Some of my previous work has been related to rugby where the risks are less well known but are creating concern within the sport. Fatalities occur in sports such as horse riding and motorbike racing without many calls for them to be banned. Formula One racing in the 1970s appears to have had 12 fatalities within the decade. The counter argument is always put forward that the intention is not to hurt in these other sports but the intention can be to go as fast as you can which also provides considerable risk to the participants and to those who go and watch. Boxing provides no such risks.
Whether many in healthcare and academia like it or not, boxing remains popular on a global scale that few other sports can replicate. Two people slugging it out is still regarded as entertainment. I can offer little defense of that apart from pointing out that millions of people agree with me now and in the past. Boxing is not perfect and I do not seek to analyse the socioeconomic and cultural aspects but for some it provides a career and an excuse for increased physical fitness at a time when we are being constantly reminded of the importance of physical activity. The sport's safety has improved over the years, particularly in relation to ring side care. It is never going to make the sport safe but, just maybe, it is that element of danger that makes it attractive.