Belfast Telegraph

Boxing is inherently dangerous, but a ban is unworkable

By John Rentoul

It was a moment to change minds: Chris Eubank Snr going in the ring to tell his son: "You're not going to take him out to the face, you're going to take him out to the body."

Two rounds later the referee stopped the fight and Eubank Jnr's opponent, Nick Blackwell, collapsed. He was taken to hospital and put in an induced coma to minimise his injuries.

Yes, the referee should have stopped the fight earlier. But that is a detail.

The audience that pays for boxing should have stopped watching the sport long ago.

I know, because I have stopped watching American football. It has given me such pleasure since I started following the beautiful brawl, without understanding the rules, when Channel 4 bought it to fill its late schedule in 1982.

But last season I didn't watch it - well, hardly, apart from the first half of the Super Bowl.

My "Chris Eubank Snr" moment came two years ago, when I read Collision Low Crossers, an account of a year with the New York Jets.

I discovered that NFL players do not tackle each other in training because it is too dangerous. This shouldn't have come as a surprise. I knew that head injuries were an unavoidable part of the game.

Helmet-to-helmet collisions have a similar effect to punches to the head. I knew, although I tried to pretend I didn't, that nearly 30% of all NFL players will suffer some form of dementia.

The players know what they are doing. It's a route out of the ghetto for poor black athletes; the risk of brain injury is worth it for the stupendous rewards of the NFL.

I tend to be against banning things. My friend, who is a neurosurgeon, was opposed to banning boxing because it would drive it underground, making it more dangerous.

So, no, I wouldn't ban boxing, or rugby, or (as if) American football. But people who watch sport should do so with their eyes open.

John Rentoul is a London-based writer and commentator

Belfast Telegraph


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