Coma high­lights box­ing danger

Lesotho Times - - Sport - Jeff Pow­ell

LON­DON — As Nick Black­well lies in an in­duced coma the box­ing abo­li­tion­ists are in full cry. This is the de­fault re­sponse when­ever a prize-fighter suf­fers brain dam­age.

Un­der­stand­ably, these protests tend to have the sup­port of the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion.

In­evitably, those voices be­come the more stri­dent when a fight ends in a fatal­ity.

Hope­fully, the hospital bul­letins sug­gest­ing this will not be the tragic out­come for the most like­able young Black­well are of­fer­ing an ac­cu­rate prog­no­sis.

Nev­er­the­less, this again chal­lenges those of us drawn to the vi­car­i­ous spec­ta­cle of the ring, the sense of danger, the heart-in-mouth ex­cite­ment, the ten­sions in the crowd and the skill and brav­ery of the com­bat­ants to jus­tify our fas­ci­na­tion with this hard­est of all games.

This case is at its most awk­ward and com­plex to make when pitched against that part of the in­her­ent na­ture of box­ing which is to in­flict vi­o­lent blows to the head with the in­tent of ren­der­ing an op­po­nent un­con­scious.

Yet it is of­ten ar­gued most ve­he­mently by those who have been hurt griev­ously them­selves by the sport they love.

Muham­mad Ali, when still able to speak, not only ab­solved box­ing from any blame for his on­set of Parkin­son’s dis­ease but thanked it for the fame and distinc­tion with which it has en­hanced his ex­tra­or­di­nary life.

If and when Black­well re­gains his full fac­ul­ties from the Satur­day night beat­ing he took at the fists of Chris Eubank Jnr which lost him his Bri­tish mid­dleweight ti­tle, his pre­dom­i­nant re­gret will be that at 25 his ca­reer will be over.

That his re­cov­ery is ex­pected to be more com­plete than that made by Michael Wat­son af­ter he was sent into a coma by Eubank’s iconic fa­ther in­di­cates how pro­foundly the med­i­cal pre­cau­tions have been im­proved in the in­ter­ven­ing 25 years.

We who wit­nessed from ring­side the chaos in treat­ing Wat­son and the de­lay in fer­ry­ing him to hospital from Tot­ten­ham’s White Hart Lane football ground were alarmed and out­raged.

It took 40 days in his coma and six brain op­er­a­tions to save Wat­son’s life. It took many years for Wat­son to re­cover suf­fi­ciently to com­plete a Lon­don marathon, al­beit that feat tak­ing him sev­eral days.

Chris Eubank Snr ac­com­pa­nied him ev­ery step of the way and the ex­tent to which he is still haunted by those events was ev­i­dent as he begged for his son’s beat­ing of Black­well to be stopped ear­lier by the ref­eree.

The Bri­tish Box­ing Board of Con­trol were al­most bankrupted by the com­pen­sa­tion paid to Wat­son for the in­ad­e­quacy of their med­i­cal stan­dards in 1991, hav­ing to sell their Lon­don head­quar­ters and move to less ex­pen­sive premises in Wales.

Now the reg­u­la­tions to pro­tect box­ers in the UK are among the most strin­gent in the world.

As the Board’s wise and com­pas­sion­ate general-sec­re­tary Robert Smith says: “Box­ing is not a sport we can ever make per­fectly safe but we do our very best.”

The re­duc­tion in brain in­juries is ap­par­ent in the sta­tis­tics. Since records be­gan over a cen­tury ago, there has been an av­er­age of less than one death ev­ery two years in the thou­sands of fights which take place an­nu­ally around the world.

The ma­jor­ity of those fa­tal­i­ties oc­curred be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of re­forms such as the bring­ing for­ward of weigh-ins to the day be­fore fights to pre­vent de­hy­dra­tion around the brain.

Fewer men die in the ring than in sev­eral other sport­ing pur­suits. Moun­taineers ex­pire on frozen peaks. Pot­holers per­ish in dank caves.

The death of a cy­clist mown down by a car dur­ing a race in Bel­gium on Sun­day came as a re­minder that it is in­fin­itely more haz­ardous to drive on our roads than to lace up the gloves.

Nor was there a call for For­mula 1 to be abol­ished when Ayr­ton Senna was killed, even though ex­actly as many driv­ers have died at the wheel since 1952 as box­ers have lost their lives in more than a hun­dred years.

That Michael Schu­macher re­mains in a coma caused by his ski­ing ac­ci­dent, af­ter sur­viv­ing a ca­reer in mo­tor-rac­ing, is a grimly ironic re­minder of the per­ils of that ac­tiv­ity.

Rugby and Amer­ica’s NFL are among sports try­ing to come to terms with con­cus­sions and paral­y­sis. Con­stant head­ing of a football is now be­ing ex­am­ined as a prob­a­ble cause of Alzheimer’s and Parkin­son’s. Pro­hi­bi­tion is rarely, if ever, a so­lu­tion. Ban box­ing and it will be driven un­der­ground. As it is, there is bare-knuckle fight­ing in trav­eller en­camp­ments and white-col­lar box­ing is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly fash­ion­able among City traders, bankers and their ilk.

Safer by far to keep this sport li­censed and reg­u­lated. Box­ing, in re­al­ity, does more good than harm by of­fer­ing young­sters a dis­ci­plined es­cape from street life and, in­creas­ingly, a lu­cra­tive in­come.

A no­table ex­am­ple is Anthony Joshua, who fights for a world heavy­weight ti­tle at Lon­don’s 02 Arena on Satur­day and who, when telling in­ter­view­ers about his youth on the streets of Wat­ford, ad­mits: “I would have been in drugs gangs and then in prison but for box­ing.”

Joshua is part of a box­ing boom in the UK which now boasts 11 world cham­pi­ons, more than any other na­tion in­clud­ing the US.

Yes, prize-fight­ing could do with­out the crass pre-fight threats and menaces which are lamely ex­cused as part of the big-sell of ma­jor pro­mo­tions.

There are some ugly char­ac­ters but that is not who the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of prac­ti­tion­ers of the noble art re­ally are. Box­ers are a breed apart, which makes it hard for the wider pop­u­la­tion to com­pre­hend how much they en­joy so bru­tal a busi­ness.

They are de­fined by their courage and an hon­est dig­nity which can be an un­com­fort­able re­minder that our so­ci­ety is not as civilised as we would like to pre­tend. Tens of thou­sands more or­di­nary cit­i­zens are killed by ter­ror­ist atroc­i­ties in air­ports, cafes, the­atres and crowded mar­ket-places than are per­ma­nently dam­aged in the ring.

Yet no-one pro­poses that we should give up the nor­mal pur­suits of our daily life. The op­po­site, in fact.

It comes down to free­dom of choice and box­ers, who are well aware of the risks they take, are as en­ti­tled to that as any of us.

— Daily Mail

April 3: Le­ices­ter v Southamp­ton, Manch­ester United v Everton. — Reuters MU­NICH — Ger­man cham­pi­ons Bay­ern Mu­nich will con­tinue to reap the ben­e­fits of man­ager Pep Guardi­ola’s (pic­tured) coach­ing even af­ter the Spa­niard leaves the club at the end of the sea­son, mid­fielder Xabi Alonso has said.

Guardi­ola, who has won nu­mer­ous tro­phies with Barcelona and then Bay­ern, will take over as head coach of English Premier League side Manch­ester City from July.

The Spa­niard, who will be re­placed at Bay­ern by Ital­ian Carlo Ancelotti, looks set to lift his third suc­ces­sive Bun­desliga in his fi­nal sea­son and Alonso has hailed the man­ager’s in­flu­ence.

“Pep is ahead of his time. He is very de­mand­ing of him­self and his play­ers, but once you get to know it (the style), then it is the way we like to play,” Alonso told Sky Sports on Mon­day.

“Dur­ing his time here he has built some­thing, a style of play, I think many play­ers will have learnt a lot and im­proved and for sure those fun­da­men­tals will be very use­ful in the fu­ture as well.”

Bay­ern hold a five-point lead over Borus­sia Dort­mund with seven games re­main­ing and host sec­ond-bot­tom Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt on Satur­day. — AFP

Nick Black­well (right) suf­fered bad in­juries in his fight against Chris Eubank Jnr.

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