Top promoter joins chorus of condemnation

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The Independent Online
The shocked voice of the leading boxing promoter Frank Warren was a rare new addition in the well-rehearsed chorus of condemnation for the sport yesterday.

As the British Medical Association and British Safety Council joined forces to repeat demands for boxing to be banned, Mr Warren conceded the tragedy made boxing hard to defend. "It is very difficult to justify it when you see terrible injuries like those and the damage it does to the families," he said.

For those who have protested for years, another death prompted anguished exasperation that the sport is still legal, but hope the tragedy might finally produce action.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the British Medical Association's head of policy, said it was not possible to make the sport safer as long as the head was the fighter's target. The blows damage the soft tissue of the brain and the twisting movement produced microscopic tears which bleed and, long- term, cause symptoms like those in Parkinson's Disease.

"It's a different danger from other sports. In other sports, you risk yourself rather than other people," Dr Nathanson said.

"In boxing, there might not always be a death, but there is always damage. Being hit by Frank Bruno is like being hit by a sledge hammer.

"People need to be aware that when they watch this they are seeing the boxers being permanently damaged."

Ideally, fights should not be broadcast at all, she said, which would cut their money-making potential and, consequently, the spur to young boxers. "With something that has such appalling consequences, is it reasonable to televise it and call it a sport?"

James Tye, director general of the British Safety Council, said measures to improve safety should be implemented immediately. "The British Boxing Board of Control and individual promoters always say these things are going to cost too much money, but out of the huge sums of money made by promoters it would be a piddling amount."

Sam Galbraith, consultant neurosurgeon and Labour MP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, called for an urgent programme of research into brain damage caused by professional boxing. He is to raise the matter in the House of Commons.

"If we cannot get it banned, the least we are entitled to demand is research which will lead to inescapable conclusions which nobody will be able to hide from," he said.

But former boxing champion Barry McGuigan, the president of the Professional Boxers' Association, said that, statistically, boxing produced fewer serious injuries than other sports. "It's worrying that despite the fact we have taken a number of precautionary measures this sort of thing still happens. But I think the bottom line is we can never make boxing totally safe."

Tom Pendry, Labour's sports spokesman and a British Board of Boxing Control steward, said if the sport was banned, it would continue underground without controls. And Tory MP Harry Greenway, vice-chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Friends of Boxing, said it would be wrong to ban the sport in the "heat of the moment".

A 1993 report for the British Medical Association found that, worldwide, more than 360 boxers had been killed since 1945. Doctors say persistent neurological damage - the "punch drunk" syndrome - affects a fifth of older boxers.

Sky television, which had its highest viewing figure ever for Frank Bruno's title fight last month, refused to respond to the BMA's challenge to broadcasters. A BBC spokeswoman said they now showed relatively little boxing, but people did still want to watch it.