Nothing short of abolition can save lives

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Professional boxing is so rough and dangerous that even those of us who think it the most basic and natural and thrilling of athletic competitions - and at its best an art form - are obliged to respect the argument that it is a vicious business that should be legislated out of existence.

A personal view is that the sport will terminate naturally from want of participants, an audience and consequently critical television funding, but people who honestly believe boxing to be a blight on society have every right to cite the awful fate that befell Jim Murray on Friday night in support of their position.

The riot that broke out at the Hospitality Inn, Glasgow, making it difficult for paramedics to reach the stricken Murray is horrible in the imagination but is a separate issue.

Because, by all accounts, speedier attention would not have saved Murray from becoming yet another tragic statistic and medical safeguards demanded by the British Boxing Board are put forward as an example internationally, it is difficult to see how the sport can be made safer.

In any case, professional fighters are realists who recognise boxing for the harsh business it is, and accept the stern code which demands that a man goes on battling as long as he is able to stay on his feet. "We all know that boxing is a life-threatening thing," Frank Bruno has said. Perhaps if aspirants were informed vividly of the mental debilitation evident in many former champions as the result of taking heavy blows to the head, they might think twice about submitting themselves to the perils that brought about Murray's death in just his 25th year.

They are no more persuaded by history (Murray is the 11th boxer to suffer a brain injury in a British ring since 1986) than track and field athletes are to take on board the possible crippling side-effects of stimulants. Ambition overwhelms every other consideration.

The novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote: "Boxers are there to establish an absolute experience, a public accounting of the outermost limits of their beings; they will know, as few of us can know of ourselves, what physical and psychic power they possess of how much, or how little, they are capable."

Fifteen years ago next month, the Welsh bantamweight Johnny Owen died six weeks after slipping into a coma when challenging Lupe Pintor, of Mexico, for the WBC championship. Yesterday, Owen's father, Dick, kept the newspapers away from his wife. "The memory is still painful," he said. "Boxing was Johnny's life but it took him from us. I feel terribly sad for Murray's family." Michael Watson, who collapsed against Chris Eubank, probably as the result of cumulative damage sustained in hard middleweight contests, remains in a wheelchair. Gerald McClellan, who was rushed to hospital after losing a brutal bout against Nigel Benn in London earlier this year, can hardly see or speak. On their way into the Peacock gymnasium, in east London, young boxers pass a memorial to the ill-fated Bradley Stone.

As most serious injuries appear to be sustained when the fighter is exhausted and perhaps dehydrated, a further reduction in the maximum distance (presently 12 rounds) and longer intervals between sessions has been suggested as a means of making the sport less hazardous. But without head punches, another proposal, boxing would sink quickly to the level of professional wrestling. The only sure course is abolition.