Boxing must never ignore the safety factor

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The Independent Online
WHENEVER A tragedy occurs in boxing, it is certain to be said that even greater efforts must be made to ensure that fighters do not put their lives at risk from dehydration.

Admittedly, there has been a big improvement in the sport's medical supervision, but events leading up to last week's World Boxing Council super-middleweight bout between the champion, Richie Woodhall, and Vincenzo Nardiello of Italy indicate a need for more punitive action.

By his own admission Nardiello was almost 5lb over the stipulated limit of 12st a few hours before he stepped on the scales last Friday and broke the rules by first taking a sauna. In the interests of safety, the Italian, who was reported to be visibly undertrained when providing Woodhall with a sixth-round stoppage, should not have been allowed to box and, at least, fined for coming to fight in such poor condition.

However no action was taken by the WBC supervisor, Houcine Houichi of the African Boxing Association, who, if not empowered to withdraw Nardiello from the contest, could have sought the sanction of the WBC president, Joe Sulaiman, who was in Las Vegas.

Unsurprisingly, commercial interests came into play. Minus two of six world title fights advertised to pay-per-view customers, Sky television was unlikely to countenance the loss of another.

The promoter, Frank Warren, held the view that Nardiello's purse should be withheld pending an investigation, and was angry when Joe Calzaghe, who is under his management, proved to be a pound over when weighing in for a World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight defence against Robin Reid.

Since no great fuss was made about any of this on the radio commentary I heard, I raised it with the British Boxing Board's general secretary, John Morris.

When seeking explanations for what sometimes appears to be a lack of action on the Board's part, allowance has to be made for the potentially disastrous effect of litigation on its fragile economy. Morris makes no secret of this. "We are not in a position to legally defend any decision we might take to safeguard a boxer's welfare," he said. "For example, unless a scan provides irrefutable evidence that someone should not be allowed to carry on, it becomes a matter of opinion that could go against us in a court room. We simply don't have the resources to take that risk."

Following one of the bleak events in recent years that brought fresh attacks on boxing, the Board introduced a system of weight monitoring that was expanded last year at the WBC's annual convention.

Contestants for WBC titles are now supposed to be 10 per cent within the stipulated limited 30 days before fight time, five per cent with a week left for preparation. Fine in theory, but there is no guarantee that every boxing national boxing authority will observe the requirement. It was not, apparently, in Nardiello's case. Nevertheless, since he was in Newcastle three days before going up against Woodhall, the WBC had ample time to enforce its regulations. The trouble is that Houichi, maybe fearful of litigation, was not prepared to risk a run-in with Sky Television. This was loose thinking on his part - a fresh fuel for the abolitionists.

The inevitability of another bad night in boxing is always with us. In May last year the super-bantamweight Spencer Oliver slipped into a coma at the Albert Hall in London when defending his European title against Serhiy Devakov of the Ukraine.

Fortunately, Oliver survived the crisis, but the suspicion was that he had been finding it difficult to meet the weight in his division.

For anyone to take lightly the decision that allowed Nardiello to go through with his challenge to Woodhall suggests an attitude that pays no serious account to the obvious dangers of boxing. It is all very well to suppose that Nardiello knew more than enough to avoid harm - but in the hardest of all sports there is never a case for ignoring the safety factor.