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Inside Lines: Death in the ring is a risk we all take, says Nathan Cleverly


Britain's brainiest boxer, Nathan Cleverly BSc, faces arguably the toughest fight of his unbeaten 25-bout career when he defends his WBO world light-heavyweight title against mandatory challenger Robin Krasniqi at Wembley Arena next Saturday.

He also has another on his hands, this time involving verbal fisticuffs with one of his local MPs, Paul Flynn, the Labour member for Newport West and an arch-abolitionist who doubtless will again call on Parliament to ban the sport following the death last weekend of the light-middleweight Michael Norgrove.

Flynn, 78, who wants to outlaw what he calls a "degrading spectacle of gratuitous violence that exploits the least advantaged people", has said in the past that it would take another ring death to really bring the message home. Flynn's Private Members' Bill in 1998 failed and his campaign has been rebuffed by successive sports ministers – one of them, Tony Banks, memorably describing it to me as "effing bollocks".

Cleverly's counter-punching argument is somewhat more cerebral, as befits a maths graduate. He tells us: "Michael's death was a tragic accident which underlines the dangers of boxing that have always been there. All boxers know the risks. We know what business we are in, what the dangers are, and that is why there is so much respect between us and why we go into the ring 100 per cent fit to limit those dangers."

One of Cleverly's recent opponents, Tony Bellew, unwisely declared he would be "willing to die" in the ring and Cleverly himself is not shy of employing similar rhetoric, saying of the Kosovo-born German Krasniqi: "This guy is getting blasted to bits". The fight looks a humdinger, Krasniqi coming off a 38-fight winning streak and knocking out his past four opponents.

The Wembley bill is promoter Frank Warren's riposte to those defections from his stable to rival Eddie Hearn, with 14 contests in a show starting at 4pm and screened live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Channel 437/Virgin 546, www.boxnation.com).

From Russia with drugs

A four-letter word is casting a disturbing shadow over this summer's World Athletics Championships in Moscow: dope.

The sports world's preoccupation with the chemical wrongdoings of Lance Armstrong have diverted attention from what seems an equally huge scandal, with Peter Eriksson, Britain's head coach, questioning why over 30 Russian athletes are serving bans for drugs offences. The former European long jump champion Tatyana Kotova and 2005 world hammer champion Olga Kuzenkova were caught after their specimens were retested this year, as was the 1992 Olympic shot champion Svetlana Krivelyova, whose sample dates from her bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Games.

With the break-up of the Soviet bloc it was thought that many of the inherent doping malpractices might disappear. Apparently not.

Another question mark over the Championships is whether Oscar Pistorius will compete. Organisers say he is more than welcome. If he does, he'll have more front than Blackpool.

Chisora's Argie bargy

The late Iron Lady has one unlikely admirer. The irascible heavyweight boxer Dereck Chisora, who lives in Baroness Thatcher's old constituency of Finchley, says: "She was a very powerful woman and I liked her. I would have voted for her."

So the relicensed ring rebel, who makes his return at Wembley next week, says he will dedicate the fight to her when he meets the Argentinian Hector Alfredo Avila. "A Brit bashing an Argie. Maggie would have loved that."

Service charge at LTA

Among those jostling in the queue to succeed Roger Draper, the unlamented departing chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, are two unemployed former heads of the British Olympic Association, Andy Hunt and Simon Clegg. Whoever it is can expect Draper's "unthinkable" £640,000-a-year salary to be halved.