Coma highlights boxing danger
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.