As a teenager I loved watching boxing. In particular, I was a huge fan of Muhammad Ali, as so many people are, and I had most of his fights on VHS. Indeed, my first draft of this essay included an extended adulation of his feats in order to affirm my credentials. While doing so, even I was surprised at how little research was required – all the key dates, opponents and statistics were readily accessible from memory. Similarly, to this day I would still rank Rocky II as one of my top ten favourite films.
But boxing must be banned. Simply nothing else will do. It’s impossible to square such a barbaric concept with the stated goals of civilised societies, where violence is illegal in all its forms, other than as a last resort for self-defence. A boxing match is merely a form of organised, legalised violence, where victory is achieved by punching an opponent in the head, preferably hard enough to knock him or her unconscious, if only for one’s own safety in that your opponent will then be unable to inflict any future damage to your own brain.
Almost every major medical association in the developed world has spoken out against boxing. In 2008, The American Medical Association noted in its ‘Report on Science and Public Health’ that boxing is a health hazard and whilst it disappointingly concluded that a legislative approach is unfeasible, it made the following comments and recommendations:
“The AMA supports publicising the deleterious effects of boxing on the health of participants and encourages the elimination of boxing from amateur scholastic, intercollegiate and governmental athletic programs as detrimental to the health of participants.”
The British Medical Association has been demanding a total ban on boxing since 1985. In 1998 its then boxing spokesman, Dr Bill O’Neill, had this to say:
“We are very concerned about the chronic brain damage that boxers are susceptible to from repeated injuries in the ring. It is the only sport where the intention is to inflict serious injury on your opponent, and we feel that we must have a total ban on boxing. As long as the head is a valid target in boxing, these injuries are going to occur. None of the safety measures that have been introduced over the last 10 to 20 years have had any significant impact on the brain injury and eye damage that occurs in boxing.”
The Australian Medical Association has been calling for a ban on boxing since 1997. In 2007 they released this statement:
“The AMA opposes all forms of boxing. All forms of boxing are a public demonstration of interpersonal violence which is unique among sporting activities. Victory is obtained by inflicting on the opponent such a measure of physical injury that the opponent is unable to continue, or which at least can be seen to be significantly greater than is received in return.”
It should also be noted that the World Medical Association has been calling for a total ban on boxing since as early as 1983.
Interestingly, boxing has already been banned in some parts of the developed world. It is forbidden in Iceland and Norway – and Sweden only recently lifted a total ban to allow fights of just four, three minute rounds in both amateur and professional boxing.
Currently ‘The Journal of Combative Sports’ shows that approximately 10 people a year die due to boxing. This number has been fairly consistent since 1945 but it is generally accepted to be a case of significant under-reporting, especially in amateur boxing and from certain parts of the developing world. As more data becomes available online, the number of known deaths is expected to grow.
Of course boxing advocates continually point out that people die or suffer serious injury in other sports, and in some cases, such as American Football, very much more so. Aside from acknowledging that two wrongs do not make a right, many more people play American Football than participate in boxing and studies have been done to show that statistically, the chance of dying whilst boxing is actually higher. But this fails to capture the important moral considerations relating to intentions and outcomes. Outcome is not everything – intentions matter in a just society. As has been repeated numerous times already in this article, in boxing the actual intention is to hurt your opponent, ideally to such an extent that he or she is incapacitated, unable to stand, unconscious etc.
Some insist that the State would be over-reaching itself by imposing a ban on boxing. But is ‘Nanny State’ really a fitting accusation toward a government that doesn’t allow people to punch each other in the face? Surely one of the most important obligations of any government is to discourage such behaviour among its citizens.
So how problematic might it be to ban boxing? I have to say that I don’t find the threat of underground boxing, with all its associated gore, a particularly convincing argument. Of course to begin with, as a matter of principle, we ought not to give in to that which is undesirable just because it might be difficult to prevent. But I wonder whether illegal boxing really would become as widespread as some believe, or be as difficult to police as, say, illegal drugs. The latter are desired by a significant portion of the world’s population and are easy to conceal. There is clear motive and opportunity. Boxing is nowhere near as popular, requires a large venue and the gathering of lots of people. Also, the appeal of fighting for the competitors would cease (if anyone is tempted to insist it is the noble art, I suggest they are not looking hard enough for ways to be noble). I think it is highly questionable as to whether so many would be keen to step into the ring if life changing sums of money weren’t available, especially given the increased health hazards of unregulated fights, to say nothing of the risk of going to prison for a very long time for GBH or murder.
None of this should be taken as a recommendation not to learn the art of boxing via non-combative training. The world can be a dangerous place and it is a very good idea to learn how to defend oneself. It is also of course a fantastic way to keep fit. But punching someone should never be considered sport, in line with its spirit of goodwill and respect.