Doctors' film aims savage blow at boxing

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The Independent Online
Doctors have stepped up their campaign to win an outright ban on boxing with the launch of a new film which graphically illustrates the devastating consequences of punches to the head.

The 60-second commercial, to be shown in 200 cinemas across the country in the run-up to two world-title fights on 9 November, uses the analogy of a game of conkers.

Shot in monochrome with the sound effects and commentary of a boxing match, an innocent pastime takes on a sinister intent which leaves the viewer in no doubt of the power of the punch. At the conclusion, the conkers turn into brains thudding onto the floor, and the caption asks "Where's the sport in boxing?".

Dr Sandy Macara, chairman of the British Medical Association which commissioned the commercial, said it was the first time that a film for general release had been used in a BMA campaign. "The aim is to drive home to the public and parliament that the boxing fraternity's defence [of boxing] is completely self-serving ... it is a brutal and out-dated activity."

The target audience includes boys who are attracted to the sport, young men already involved in it, and parents, to make them aware that unlike cuts and bruises, the worst damage is what they will not see except on a brain scan, Dr Macara said.

This latest move in the BMA's 14-year campaign for Britain to follow Norway and Sweden in outlawing amateur and professional boxing, comes after reports that some schools, including Croxteth Comprehensive in Liverpool, are reintroducing the sport for boys as young as10. "This is a worrying phenomenon. It is only a small number of schools but this is the wrong sport to be introducing youngsters to," Dr Macara said.

An appearance by Muhammad Ali, the three-times world heavyweight champion, at the Olympic Games in Atlanta this summer, had sensitised people to the long-term effects of boxing, according to Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of the BMA's professional resources and research group.

The former boxer's obvious disability and frailty shocked millions of television viewers. "No one knows the exact cause of his illness ... but he does manifest Parkinsonian features which are consequence of boxing injuries ... he was a man of great grace and to see what chronic brain damage does to people ... those who still like boxing watch it now with a degree of shame," Dr Nathanson said. Boxing shown on television should carry a health warning, that "this sport will damage your health", she added.

However, the British Boxing Board of Control which oversees professional boxing, strongly disputed the BMA's claim of overwhelming medical evidence which shows that the sport results in acute and chronic brain and eye damage. In the past three years, figures worldwide show that six boxers have been seriously injured in the ring and two have died.

Dr Adrian Whiteson, chief medical officer and vice- chairman of the board, said: "Boxing is safer than the majority of other sports. Acute injury is rare and nobody has been able to prove that there is an increased incidence of accumulated brain damage among boxers. The BMA has lost the debate. This may be its last throw."

There have been five failed attempts to introduce anti- boxing legislation with Commons Private Member's Bills since 1981. The last, introduced by Lord Taylor of Gryfe and intended to ban boxing matches for profit, was defeated by just one vote in the Lords last December.

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