Viewpoint: Cruel illusion of cash and cliche

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The Independent Online
I BOXED as an amateur before becoming an inspector for the British Boxing Board of Control. I also commentated on the 'sport' for BBC radio and television and ITV.

For more than 40 years boxing and boxers played a major role in my life. Now I believe boxing should be banned. Too many of my contemporaries are today inarticulate, unsteady on their feet, have little memory or co-ordination, while others have died in mental homes.

As a medical journalist, I know that the brain must be damaged by blows to the head. Boxing is the only so-called sport in which the participant's main objective is to inflict brain damage on his opponent.

The British Boxing Board of Control, a self-elected and self-perpetuating body, claims to warn youngsters of the dangers to health. But how can you warn a 16-year- old with stars in his eyes and dreams of bright lights and headlines that he may be a cabbage by the time he's 50?

The board boasts that its rules demand two doctors at the ringside for every tournament. Yet these doctors cannot halt a contest when they fear a boy might be brain damaged. That decision is left to the referee.

What is more, I have seen boys taking as much damage during training as in actual fights. It is not necessary to have any doctor or a BBBC official present for sparring.

Boxing defenders claim that if boxing were outlawed, it would go underground. It would. But there would be no headlines, no television, no gigantic purses to lure the boy into the ring or persuade his parents to allow him to risk his sanity.

Another pro-boxing lobby cliche is that boxing saves many lads from becoming criminals. Yet the Krays and the Richardsons were all first-class fighters.

Defenders of boxing say it is safer than other sports, particularly rugby. They compare death rates; they forget that tens of thousands play rugby every week in the season, but there are only 1,000 professional boxers who fight maybe four times a year.

Amateur boxing is often claimed to be safe. Yet three years ago, when a senior naval radiologist carried out brain scans, he found that the 20 or so members of the Royal Navy boxing team, mostly in their twenties, had already suffered irreversible brain damage.

Today, gladiatorial contests with swords or tridents are illegal. Have we the right to allow young men blinded by the bright lights to risk their sanity for our entertainment? It is significant that boxing is the only sport where 99.9 per cent of those yelling loudest for blood would never dare climb through the ropes themselves.

Tony Van den Bergh, 77, was taught to box when he was six. He boxed as an amateur in his late teens, becoming an inspector for the BBBC, before beginning a career as a writer and broadcaster - he was ITV's first boxing commentator. He started campaigning for a ban on boxing five years ago.