Archive for the ‘boxing’ Category

Women’s boxing enters the Olympic ring

Following a decision this week, women will compete in the Olympic boxing tournament in 2012 for the first time since 1904. Consequently, every sport at London 2012 will have both male and female participants.

There will be only 36 female boxers competing in three weight categories but the decision demonstrates an important commitment to progress towards equality of opportunity in sport for women.

It is probably only in gymnastics, tennis and equestrian sport that female athletes draw as much media attention as men. Judging from the extensive comment in recent days on the introduction of women’s boxing to the Olympic Games, boxing could be another sport in which women gain a high profile.

Boxing, whose origins date back thousands of years, will always be controversial because the ultimate aim is to inflict brain damage on the opponent - it can never be just another sport. As I mentioned in a previous post, the British Medical Association (BMA), the professional association for doctors, has called for the abolition of amateur and professional boxing in Britain since 1982 without making much visible progress. Unsurprisingly, the BMA expressed “disappointment” at this week’s news.

Several commentators in British media made the point that if men are able to take part in boxing then that
opportunity should also be afforded to women. Matthew Syed wrote in The Times “either you ban boxing for men and women on the ground of paternalistic morality or you ban neither”. A contrasting view point is offered by a boxing promoter writing in Scotland on Sunday who states “I prefer women to wear Chanel rathern than catgut”.

There is no doubt about the combination of skill, speed and stamina required in Olympic boxing, which features short bouts and protective head-gear. Nevertheless, many sports fans are ambivalent about men’s boxing. When it comes to women’s boxing, the experience of watching a fight will force spectators to question some deeply-held beliefs.

One of sport’s important achievements is to help challenge prejudices about ethnicity, disability and gender. When the first woman enters the ring to box in London in 2012 I suspect there will be plenty of people watching but some may admit to feeling uncomfortable about doing so.

Boxing’s endless debate

Filipino Manny Pacquiao knocked out British boxer Ricky Hatton in the second round of their IBO light welterweight world title fight last night in Las Vegas. The short, brutal contest is unlikely to change many opinions about the validity of boxing as a sport.

Pacquiao’s achievement is not in doubt. In 46 fights during a 12 year professional boxing career, Hatton had previously lost only once yet his defeat this time was swift and emphatic. Some commentators, including his trainer, are now calling on Hatton to retire.

Boxing has always provoked strong reactions. Along with one or two less well-known combat disciplines (such as the gruesome UFC), boxing is one of few sports in which an athlete who was super-fit at the start of the event regularly ends up unconscious as a direct consequence of the sporting competition (without any rules being broken or an accident happening). Effectively, the objective for each fighter is to inflict brain damage on the other. 

Amateur boxing, as seen at the Olympic Games, is fairly well-regulated with short bouts, protective head-gear and a scoring system which, while still imperfect, is much more objective than it used to be. The high degree of skill, fitness and bravery required are self-evident. In addition, the stories of amateur boxers who emerge from humble origins are frequently inspirational: Muhammad Ali was unquestionably one of the most important sporting figures of the 20th century. 

Unfortunately, amateur boxing mainly exists as a route into the professional game, which as even a dedicated fan would admit, is an ugly mess. The most recognised international sanctioning bodies are:
- World Boxing Association 
- World Boxing Council
- International Boxing Federation
- World Boxing Organization
- International Boxing Organization

…but there are plenty more at world, continental and national level. That means there are up to five world champions at any one time in each weight category, which obviously devalues the currency. How has this come about? There are several reasons:
- It’s easier to sell tickets (or pay-per view TV subscriptions) for a fight involving a world champion
- Boxers have short, precarious careers and their promoters don’t want to risk their prime assets losing unless there is a lot to be gained
- The administration of professional boxing has always been controversial and highly political

The net result is a professional sport which is largely discredited, poorly understood and (arguably) declining in popularity.

Boxing is not going to go away. The British Medical Association, the professional association for doctors, has called for the abolition of amateur and professional boxing in Britain since 1982 without making much visible progress. Many would argue that abolition would lead to illegal, unregulated fighting, which could be much more dangerous. In defence of the professional sport, big improvements have been made in recent years in medical attention for boxers. 

Every fighter dreams of being able to win a world title and command big money at the box office. They may sometimes be exploited by promoters and hangers-on but ultimately they are responsible for their own actions. Boxing will continue as long as it has an audience. It’s your choice whether or not to watch.