TELEVISION: A Bloody Art (BBC2)

Is subscription viewing a blow to safer boxing? Jasper Rees on a tricky question
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The Independent Culture
The trouble with boxing is that you can never believe what people say about it. The infatuated romantics who write about it, the helium- blasted hype-merchants who promote it and the lobbyists who seek to ban it each have their own agenda, but all are equally guilty of misrepresentation. Only boxers themselves, for the most part tongue-tied but clear-eyed, have the honesty to call it the hurt business, a Mephistophelean deal that brings pain and pay.

With all hope abandoned of ever again broadcasting the likes of tonight's big fight, the BBC are now free to join the ranks of those who can say what they like about boxing. And although there might be a twist of sour grapes in any documentary that has to rent out its action clips from 'Dochbusters, the BSkyB video library, John Rodda's A Bloody Art proved that it is possible to get within striking distance of calm objectivity.

Like a lot of sports reporters pushing retirement age, the Guardian's former fight writer is a fervent nostalgist, in mourning not only for sport's bygone innocence but also, perhaps, for the journalist's more pivotal role before the spread of television. But there is a pragmatic undertow to the mournful reminiscing of boxing's ancients. Rodda argued that if the sport's fatal attraction for lucre plays any further into the hands of the abolitionists, memories may well be all that's left of boxing.

The equation is simple - subscription viewers want entertainment for their money, which means knockouts, which raise the toll of death and brain damage. Fighters are trained nowadays, like police dogs, solely in techniques of attack, because the subtler skills of evasion that once kept nimbler boxers on their feet no longer pay the bills. It makes sense that the traditional doctrine of duck-and-weave holds sway only in the amateur ring. With no money at stake, no one bays for blood.

Aside from suggesting a few rule changes to muzzle the potency of the puncher, Rodda seemed resigned to the fact that boxing will never stem the tide of changes wrought by the temptress television. It's no coincidence that boxing was the first sport to hurl itself into the ravenous maw of satellite, no surprise that there was no place for boxing on Parliament's list of shielded sporting events. You can't safeguard a home on terrestrial television for a sport with no annual niche in the sporting diary, nor anything as basic as a united governing body. WBO, WBA and IBF sound like competing ad agencies, and practically are.

For anyone with an eye on the calendar, Rodda's gloomy forecast of storms ahead for the hurt business was, on two counts, a wry bit of scheduling. It went out on the eve of another thespian night for the sport, in which the daftly costumed participants resemble actors in a sort of blood theatre. The transmission date also happened to be the Ides of March, summoning a vision of all those boxers stabbing Harry Carpenter in the back. Et tu, Bruno?

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