White Collar Boxing - Can Boxing Without Regulation Be Safe?
A few weeks ago I stumbled over an article from The Guardian, published in 2014 (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/27/white-collar-boxing-dangerous-unlicensed-lance-ferguson-prayogg-death) following the death of a participant in a white collar boxing event.
Before we start here let´s address the elephant in the room - all boxing is dangerous. There is no getting away from the fact that repeated blows to the head come with some risks of injury and have the potential for lasting damage. However accepting that there are risks in the activity and further accepting that participants engaging in this activity are both aware and acceptant of the risks, the question on my mind here is should white collar boxing be regulated? It should also be referenced that whilst Lance Ferguson´s death was a tragedy, the post mortem found the cause to be drug-related and partly due to diet pills that Lance had taken in advance of the bout.
Both amateur and professional boxing is indeed regulated. In most, if not all countries, there are regulatory bodies (such as the AIBA, BBBofC, ABAE etc.) which set the standards and dictate the conditions under which participants will fight. Additionally they have established criteria which determine the participants fitness and capability to fight, thereby providing a level of protection for the would be participants and reducing the risk of injury. It is absolutely the case however that no such regulation or licence exists in white collar boxing events. Whilst there may be organisational bodies which provide some psuedo-legitimacy, there is no obligation on behalf of would be promoters to ascribe themselves to these bodies.
Without doubt in the past few years there has been an explosion of popularity and participation in white collar boxing. Many ´promotions´are operated under the auspices of being charitable events and do offer the participants some measure of medical screening and protection before and post fight. However there are many and various potential events out there so how do you know that the one you choose is going to have your best interests (and not those of their own personal bank balance) at heart. Having personally fought in a number of white collar promotions I have first hand experience of the value (and contempt) promoters have towards the participants in their events. Equally, I have witnessed first hand the unlying commercial drive, hidden behind the shroud of the ´charity boxing event´ facade.
The priority in any credible white collar event is boxer safety. This begins before the event, is consistent during the event and has checks and measures in place to ensure the boxer´s wellbeing immediately after the event. Primarily, before the event occurs there should be a medically based screening programme in place from day 1. All too often the participants in these events have no experience of boxing as a competitive sport, with the physical condition to match. Many charity white collar events are indeed the catalyst that provides positive behavioural changes in the participants, leading to the adoption of new healthier lifestyles. However equally there are those that enter into the ring with more coronary risk factors than you can shake a stick at. Any decent white collar event will screen participants from day 1. A full medical history will be undertaken, including (although not limited to) blood pressure, resting heart rate, weight and BMI. Any potentially high risk indicators can therefore be identified well in advance of the event and medical referral or recommendations made as appropriate. The bottom line is that this approach ensures that the boxer is physically capable of being exposed to the stress of competition. The second aspect which should be fully in place before the event is a mandatory training programme for all participants. This should commence 10-12 weeks prior to the event and coach all participants to an equal understanding of basic boxing technique. Whilst there is always going to be individual differences in respect of skill acquisition and capability, this training programme should provide all with the basics to ensure that they can appropriately address themselves within the ring. To support this mandatory training, there should be full advice provided on ancillary training expected and nutritional advice to be followed in the weeks leading up to competition.
With these fundamentals in place, attention should then be given to the manner of the promotion itself and how fights are ´made´. In a legitimate promotion boxers should be matched by gender, experience/ability, physical size (weight/height) and age. It is key that attention is paid to the background of the boxers and any experience is taken into account. Moreover, match-making should be made by looking at the personal criteria of the boxers and also capability demonstrated at the mandatory training sessions provided.
Assuming now that all things are equal and the above points are all in place before the event, the next stage is to consider how the boxers safety is reinforced during the event. Immediately prior to competition there should be a pre-fight medical screen in place for all participants. This should be conducted by an appropriately qualified individual (doctor/paramedic) with again recommendation or referral being made if appropriate. Critically this check will prohibit any individuals from participation is there is any indication of ill health.
The next aspect here concerns the quality of the referee and their approach towards the specific contests. It is without question a fundamental requirement that the referee is qualified and experienced in respect of managing boxing contests. Having an ability as a competitor or trainer does not qualify someone to be a referee. The referee should be a professional, experienced individual who understands that there role is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the boxers. This factor also extends to the quality and role of the corner teams. Some promotions use their own people to corner fighters, some require the fighters to provide their own teams. The essential factor here is that the corner teams for each fighter are fully aware of their role, to support and safeguard the fighter during the bout. They are not merely spectators with a ring side view, they must be actively engaged and closely monitoring the performance of their boxer to ensure that can act (if necessary) to protect the wellbeing of their boxer.
Back of house during the event should be well organised and directed. An effective team should be warming up the boxers, calling and preparing fighters in advance of their bout. There should also be medical staff on hand both ringside and back of house. Immediately post fight all boxers should be given a post fight medical. This should fundamentally look for any immediate signs of head injury and further provide referral/advice as appropriate. Often this is the one aspect that is overlooked by many promotions, however it is crucial in underpinning the safety and wellness of the boxer following their bout.
In conclusion, whilst there is no mandatory regulation for white collar events, there are some fundamental health and safety concerns which have to be addressed to safeguard the participants. To achieve this regulation isn´t necessary, common sense and awareness from promoters however is. There is a wide variety of promotions now available and an equal diversity in their approach and attention to the provision of the event. Done correctly white collar boxing is a fantastic opportunity to competitively engage in the sport, regardless of age, ability and experience. Equally, when it works everyone wins, the boxers get an amazing experience, the promoters get their commercial return and the allocated charity receive much nee