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Boxing: Minimise the Risk or Ban the Sport?

Despite its recognised popularity, we have to ask the question: do the medical risks associated with boxing warrant a ban, or merely further restrictions on the sport?

When a boxer enters a ring and agrees to fight, there's a common understanding that either individual could leave the match with grievous injuries - in fact, contact sports almost always carry this risk.

Of course, that's not to say that a boxer will get off scot-free if he or she doesn't play by the rules; a competitor must act fairly to prevent serious injuries from occurring to either party. But, despite its recognised popularity, we have to ask the question: do the medical risks associated with boxing warrant a ban, or merely further restrictions on the sport?

If a person is exposed to repeated blows to the head - a frequent occurrence in the boxing ring - a potentially serious medical condition can develop called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE); more commonly known as 'punch-drunk syndrome'. This is a neurodegenerative disease that can result in depression, memory loss, and aggression, as well as blood clots and internal bleeding.

The History and Effects

During its history, boxing has produced some fantastic athletes that finally succumbed to neurological medical conditions caused by their sport. Some of the better known victims include Chris Eubank, Bradley Stone, and Muhammad Ali. Despite the severity of their medical conditions, each boxer's legacy overshadowed their terrible illnesses.

When looking at boxing history, we're inevitably more likely to focus on the 'greats' in their prime, rather than the damaged athletes, side-lined by their condition.

Those who propose a ban on boxing often argue that the medical risks are too great. Why? Because the aim of the sport is to disable your opponent, and the most effective means of achieving this end is to impose a substantial number of head blows within a short period of time.

The main elements at the heart of the ban-boxing debate can be categorised into two important legal issues: free will and the protection of individual welfare. At present, the scales are firmly tilted in favour of the former, enabling a competitor's consent to trump any report from the British Medical Association, which highlights the potentially life-threatening medical effects of boxing.

Minimising The Risk

So, with that in mind, is there anything that can be done in the meantime, to minimise the health risks? Some suggest that protective head equipment should be worn in all boxing matches. However, this would contribute little, if at all, towards preventing medical conditions such as CTE. This condition is caused by continuous impact to the head; in other words, the brain hitting the inside of the skull with force.

A more pragmatic suggestion is to employ one trained medical practitioner to attend ringside at each boxing match - he or she should be given powers to stop the match if they feel either of the competitors had taken far too many dangerous blows to the head. Yes, this would incur substantial extra costs, but it's worth consideration.

To return to the initial question posed, do the medical risks associated with boxing warrant a ban? There is an extremely strong case for an affirmative answer, as the health danger is high. However, the reality is that there are more factors at play, all of which need consideration.

For the moment, public support for boxing is too great for parliament to legislate against it. It may take more high profile cases involving the development of serious medical conditions, in order to produce a compelling defence for an absolute ban on the sport.

Tom has written this on behalf of Barlow Robbins, brain injury solicitors. They have undertaken extensive training to help gain a greater understanding of the brain. This helps to reveal disabilities that can be caused by head injuries. They would love to hear any opinions or thoughts you have on this or any other brain injury related topics.

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