When the gloves go on

‘‘In boxing you’re ei­ther hit or you get hit – that’s what it’s about. There is go­ing to be some af­fect or some dam­age. It’s that sim­ple.’’ Ser­manni plans to bring sta­bil­ity to Foot­ball Ferns

Waikato Times - - Sport - An­drew Vo­er­man

Stephen McIvor could barely breathe while the punches flew at his face. But re­mem­ber­ing his trainer’s ad­vice, he spat his mouth­guard onto the boxing ring floor.

It’s one of the rules – no punches to be thrown with­out a mouth­guard. It’s a reprieve from the per­sis­tent hay­mak­ers.

It was the Sky Tele­vi­sion broad­caster’s first char­ity fight, but the in­ten­sity and dan­ger did not de­ter him from get­ting in the ring again. In fact, he did it twice more.

It was days af­ter his third bout in 2014 that he started to fear his de­ci­sion to get in the char­ity boxing ring would have a dra­matic im­pact on his fam­ily.

The re­al­i­sa­tion dawned as he lay on a hos­pi­tal bed in the brain in­jury unit. McIvor was ‘‘sh ...... my­self to be hon­est’’.

‘‘I was in tears ly­ing on the hos­pi­tal bed think­ing what an id­iot I had been to put my fam­ily, and my­self, through this.’’

McIvor had jumped in the ring with Stuff jour­nal­ist Steven Kil­gal­lon for three rounds of char­ity boxing.

But two days af­ter the bout, while work­ing in the gar­den at his home in Auck­land, McIvor felt his head pound every time his spade dug into the earth.

Soon, he was rushed to the brain in­jury unit with a sus­pected brain bleed. It would later turn out to be a rup­tured pocket of spinal fluid in his head.

‘‘I lay there for about 48 hours and just kept think­ing about my fam­ily. Just for the sake of my ego I could’ve lost my life, my fam­ily and my kids.’’

McIvor says he is in no way ad­vo­cat­ing to stop char­ity boxing events, he knew what he was do­ing, and thinks if peo­ple want to give it a go safely – they should.

‘‘But with the tragic events in Christchurch it’s chill­ing to think what could have hap­pened.’’

On Wed­nes­day, Kain Par­sons died in Christchurch Hos­pi­tal aged 37. A for­mer builder-turned-project man­ager, he was knocked un­con­scious dur­ing a fight against for­mer Can­ter­bury and Tas­man Mako half­back Steve Alfeld at Fight for Christchurch last Satur­day.

CALL FOR REG­U­LA­TIONS

Af­ter Par­sons’ death, Boxing New Zealand sev­ered its ties with cor­po­rate boxing events, and pro­fes­sion­als in the in­dus­try have called for tougher restric­tions.

Oth­ers in the pro­fes­sion have called for the or­gan­i­sa­tions which sanc­tion char­ity boxing events – New Zealand Na­tional Boxing Fed­er­a­tion (NZNBF) and New Zealand Pro­fes­sional Boxing As­so­ci­a­tion (NZPBA) – to heed the warn­ings of ex­pe­ri­enced boxing train­ers and make strin­gent safety prac­tices manda­tory at every event, big or small.

In­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Tracey Martin said on Thurs­day she had asked her de­part­ment for ad­vice on whether char­ity boxing matches should be reg­u­lated. ‘‘We’ve had two deaths in three years and that’s two deaths too many,’’ she said.

Tom Ser­manni’s foot­ball jour­ney be­gan in Scot­land in the 1970s. Since then, it’s taken him to Eng­land, Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, the United States, Malaysia and Canada. Now he’s in New Zealand, tasked with lead­ing the Foot­ball Ferns to next year’s World Cup and pro­vid­ing a steady hand af­ter two years of in­sta­bil­ity.

The team’s im­me­di­ate ob­jec­tive is win­ning the Ocea­nia Women’s Na­tions Cup, which starts next Mon­day, some­thing they should ac­com­plish with ease, given they’ve never lost to an­other Pa­cific Is­land na­tion. That would qual­ify them for the World Cup in France next June, where they are seek­ing a place in the knock­out stage for the first time.

Nei­ther goal will be easy, es­pe­cially when you con­sider all that has gone on around the team dur­ing the past two years.

Since the Rio Olympics in 2016, there have been the re­tire­ments of sev­eral se­nior play­ers; the sur­prise res­ig­na­tion of coach Tony Read­ings last Novem­ber, when there were two years to run on his con­tract; and the not-so-sur­prise res­ig­na­tion of coach An­dreas Heraf in July, fol­low­ing com­plaints from a dozen play­ers about his con­duct that an in­de­pen­dent re­view later Stephen McIvor, right, dur­ing his fight with fel­low jour­nal­ist Steve Kil­gal­lon

In Au­gust, Lucy Brown, 31, died days af­ter re­ceiv­ing a head in­jury dur­ing a rou­tine spar­ring ses­sion.

In 2016, Hamil­ton man Neville Knight died in the ring at a char­ity boxing match, leav­ing be­hind three chil­dren.

Ear­lier this year, Auck­land’s Peach Gym quit the cor­po­rate fight scene af­ter Joel Rea, 36, was se­verely con­cussed at a cor­po­rate fight.

In April, a man was knocked out for 20 min­utes and hos­pi­talised for four days with a brain in­jury at a Boxing Al­ley event in Auck­land. That led Boxing Al­ley to also can­cel cor­po­rate fights in­def­i­nitely.

The NZPBA ap­proves or pro­motes about 50 cor­po­rate bouts each year. As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Pat Leonard said the box­ers at the Fight for Christchurch event had a pre-bout med­i­cal check by a reg­is­tered doc­tor and were told by the su­per­vi­sor about the risks.

In Par­sons’ case, he’d taken two weeks off train­ing be­cause of an in­ci­dent dur­ing spar­ring.

Ac­cord­ing to witnesses, on the night of the fight Par­sons had been stunned twice by punches dur­ing the bout, prompt­ing the ref­eree to give him two eight stand­ing counts in the first round, to check if he was fine to con­tinue.

Then, he was knocked out in the sec­ond round.

DIF­FER­ENT RULES FOR CHAR­ITY BOXING

Par­sons was not wear­ing head­gear, which was op­tional – a pol­icy in line with the New Zealand Pro­fes­sional Boxing As­so­ci­a­tion (NZPBA). A re­view is un­der way into the fight and the death has been re­ferred to the coro­ner.

Auck­land Boxing As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Paul McSharry told Stuff pro­mot­ers for cor­po­rate boxing are averse to the rules of am­a­teur boxing.

‘‘There are ap­prox­i­mately six gov­ern­ing bod­ies in New Zealand who can sanc­tion cor­po­rate boxing.’’

How­ever, be­cause the rules and reg­u­la­tions for am­a­teur boxing are found to be ‘‘gen­uine and largely sub­stan­ti­ated’’.

Dur­ing all that, the Ferns played just 11 matches against nonOcea­nia op­po­si­tion, well down on the 24 they had dur­ing the same pe­riod in the pre­vi­ous World Cup cy­cle. They could add eight or nine more next year, in the runup to the World Cup, should they play in every in­ter­na­tional win­dow, but there’s no guar­an­tee of that, es­pe­cially when you con­sider that the purse strings at NZ Foot­ball are tight­en­ing.

It’s just as well they have a coach who has seen plenty in his

quite strict, pro­mot­ers will go to the pro­fes­sional bod­ies, he said.

‘‘Cor­po­rate boxing is sanc­tioned by pro­fes­sional boxing; pro­fes­sional box­ers don’t wear head­gear.’’

McIvor is adamant head­gear should be com­pul­sory, par­tic­u­larly on the char­ity boxing cir­cuit.

‘‘In boxing you’re ei­ther hit or you get hit – that’s what it’s about. There is go­ing to be some af­fect or some dam­age. It’s that sim­ple.’’

His one-time op­po­nent agreed with him. ‘‘I was re­ally con­cussed af­ter the fight and had bad headaches all the next day,’’ Kil­gal­lon said.

‘‘It took me un­til the evening to come right.

Given that I have a job where I have to use my brain, it’s prob­a­bly not the bright­est de­ci­sion to risk long term dam­age to it.

‘‘For years af­ter the fight I was keen to jump back in the ring, but in hind­sight

I’m glad I lis­tened to my part­ner

Emma and didn’t.’’

Both

McIvor and

Kil­gal­lon trained with boxing pro­fes­sion­als and ar­rived at the fight in peak con­di­tion – and Kil­gal­lon was at least 20kg lighter than his op­po­nent. He knew his lim­its.

‘‘If you didn’t pre­pare prop­erly it would be a fool­ish thing to do. I was con­scious of what I was about to put my­self through.

‘‘If I had been matched with an ex-sports­man there’s no way I would have fought.’’ time. ‘‘The first thing I’ve learned is you can never take any­thing for granted,’’ Ser­manni said this week.

‘‘You never quite know how things are go­ing to work out, and there’s such a fine mar­gin be­tween win­ning and los­ing and it’s not al­ways per­for­mance based. That’s prob­a­bly the thing that strikes you the most, that you never know how a game is go­ing to go.’’

Ser­manni’s most no­table achieve­ments came dur­ing his time in charge of Aus­tralia from 2005 to 2012, when they qual­i­fied out of Asia for the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, win­ning matches and

mak­ing the knock­out stages for the first time, the same achieve­ments the Ferns are presently chas­ing.

Re­flect­ing on how the Matil­das got there, Ser­manni iden­ti­fied two key fac­tors.

‘‘One was the tight­ness of the group, the real ca­ma­raderie of the group. The sec­ond thing was the abil­ity of the play­ers to be on the same page play­ing well to­gether. Our preparation was about hav­ing as much time as pos­si­ble to get the team to­gether, not nec­es­sar­ily play­ing in­ter­na­tion­als, but just get­ting to­gether. We had a team in 2007 and to a slightly lesser ex­tent

in 2011 that had come to­gether for long pe­ri­ods of time and were com­fort­able play­ing with each other and who knew how to play with each other.’’

The Ferns have a core group of play­ers who know each other well, even if they’ve only been to­gether in fits and spurts over the past two years. Ser­manni’s task is to en­sure they make the most of the lim­ited time they have to pre­pare for what awaits in France next June, while blood­ing fresher faces if and when he can.

‘‘The key is, how can we get a team to­gether so that as a team

For­mer six-time New Zealand boxing cham­pion Barry Gal­braith was a judge at the char­ity event in Christchurch in which Par­sons was in­jured last Satur­day, but can­not com­ment on the events on the night.

He has been in­volved in the char­ity cir­cuit off and on, and said match­ing fight­ers of equal abil­ity was the most cru­cial as­pect of safety.

Match­mak­ing takes into ac­count a fighter’s weight, age and time spent in the ring. But Gal­braith said a key com­po­nent was a boxer’s abil­ity and fit­ness. ‘‘When Dean Lonergan kicked all of this [char­ity boxing] off he made sure you had fit ath­letes fac­ing off against ath­letes,’’ Gal­braith said. ‘‘Most ath­letes have been into the deep end of ex­haus­tion, sim­i­lar to what hap­pens in the ring.’’ As time has gone on, cor­po­rate boxing has be­come more pop­u­lar, which has led to more and more peo­ple think­ing jump­ing in the ring is easy and just a bit of fun, he said.

‘‘But if you get some­one who plays a bit of squash at the week­end with some­one who’s played 10 years of com­pet­i­tive sport – it’s we’re ready to go the World Cup.

‘‘The group of se­nior play­ers, they’ve been to­gether for a long time, so they’re very, very fa­mil­iar with each other and the young play­ers that are com­ing into the team have had good in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘You’re not talk­ing about a group where a lot of them are leav­ing NZ for the first time in their lives, so those are pos­i­tives.’’

The Ferns will as­sem­ble in Auck­land to­mor­row, ahead of a four-day train­ing camp that be­gins on Mon­day, one week out from their Na­tions Cup opener against Tonga. Ser­manni has spo­ken to cap­tain Ali Ri­ley – who he tried to sign for the last team he coached, the Or­lando Pride – but said he is leav­ing the rest of his in­tro­duc­tions un­til play­ers ar­rive in camp.

‘‘I thought it’s just bet­ter that I wait un­til every­body comes in, be­cause in­evitabil­ity what I’d do, is I’d try and touch base with peo­ple and I’d end up speak­ing to some and not speak­ing to oth­ers, and they’d be like ‘oh, he’s spo­ken to these play­ers, why hasn’t he spo­ken to me?’ so I thought it’d be safer to get every­body in and then go from there.’’

The Ferns will be to­gether for three weeks this month, by far the longest stretch they’ll spend to­gether be­tween now and the World Cup it­self. While the re­sults in New Cale­do­nia may ap­pear to be go­ing to be a huge ad­van­tage and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous.’’

Gal­braith be­lieves some­one with match­mak­ing skills should be des­ig­nated to every cor­po­rate event and look over all the back­ground and de­tails to en­sure the right peo­ple are paired up.

‘‘The match­mak­ing is just so im­por­tant – it needs to be more in depth and not just throw­ing two peo­ple to­gether.’’

Gal­braith said or­gan­is­ers of events get the ap­pro­pri­ate sanctions from a boxing as­so­ci­a­tion, but at times em­ploy train­ers who aren’t cer­ti­fied boxing coaches.

At other events where Gal­braith has trained the con­tes­tant, he’s been forced to pull fight­ers out of the bout be­cause he felt they weren’t ready to get in the ring.

‘‘As a trainer, your job is to do the best you can for your fighter to make sure they’re not go­ing to get hurt. So if they’re not up for it you need to have a chat to them and say it’s not go­ing to work.

‘‘The match­mak­ing is just so im­por­tant, it needs to be more in depth and not just throw­ing two peo­ple to­gether.’’

For­mer na­tional boxing cham­pion Barry Gal­braith

‘‘I know other coaches have done that, too. But a trainer who has less ex­pe­ri­ence might not see the signs that in­di­cate that needs to hap­pen.’’

How­ever, he said some onus must lie with the com­peti­tor. It’s a sport with ob­vi­ous risks ap­par­ent be­fore any­one signs up, even at a pro­fes­sional level with ex­pe­ri­enced fight­ers.

Like McIvor and other boxing ex­perts, Gal­braith be­lieves that head­gear should be manda­tory for non-pro­fes­sional cor­po­rate events.

‘‘The head guards give pro­tec­tion, es­pe­cially around the back of the head if you are un­for­tu­nate enough to hit the can­vas. It also pro­tects the up­per tem­ple and avoids cuts from head clashes.’’

Most peo­ple out­side boxing wouldn’t know there are be­tween 30 and 40 dif­fer­ent brands of 16 ounce gloves.

Some in the pro­fes­sion have called for the cor­po­rate cir­cuit to be banned, while oth­ers say it would lead to un­governed fight events hap­pen­ing un­der­ground.

But Gal­braith be­lieves it needs ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple run­ning them and look at the rules and restric­tions and try to im­prove them.

McIvor agrees: ‘‘My ex­pe­ri­ence won’t be like every­one else’s.

‘‘I was 48 at the time and I knew what it was do­ing, but some­times for the sake of puff­ing our ch­est out we might not be think­ing ra­tio­nally.’’ a fait ac­com­pli it will be what they achieve there oth­er­wise that sets the tone for the months ahead.

‘‘I’ve got some thoughts, but they’re prob­a­bly go­ing to change,’’ Ser­manni said, when asked if he had a plan for Mon­day.

‘‘You al­ways go in with a plan but it’s like any­thing, once the bat­tle starts, the plan changes quite quickly. I have an idea of what I want to do, but ini­tially it will be more about ob­ser­va­tion than di­rec­tion, hav­ing a look at play­ers, hav­ing a look at the team, and then try­ing to work things out from there.’’ ❚ ❚ ❚

Ocea­nia Women’s Na­tions Cup fix­tures:

❚ Nov 19: Foot­ball Ferns v Tonga, 4pm

❚ Nov 22: v Cook Is­lands, 7pm

❚ Nov 25: v Fiji, 7pm

❚ Nov 28: Semi­fi­nals

❚ Dec 1: Fi­nal

Kain Par­sons, above, and Lucy Brown, be­low, have died this year af­ter sus­tain­ing head in­juries while boxing.

Tom Ser­manni, left, with then Foot­ball Ferns coach Tony Read­ings in 2013.

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