Boxing is barbaric - but it should not be banned

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Like buses, issues which test liberalism seem to come in threes. Last week it was hunting and smacking; this weekend it was boxing.
The Independent argues in favour of a law to ban smacking, and against laws to ban hunting and boxing. That may seem inconsistent, but bear with us. Liberals ought to be prejudiced against banning things, even if a majority of the population disapprove of them. The case for each new law and each new ban ought to be one of clear benefit to society as a whole.

Like buses, issues which test liberalism seem to come in threes. Last week it was hunting and smacking; this weekend it was boxing. The Independent argues in favour of a law to ban smacking, and against laws to ban hunting and boxing. That may seem inconsistent, but bear with us. Liberals ought to be prejudiced against banning things, even if a majority of the population disapprove of them. The case for each new law and each new ban ought to be one of clear benefit to society as a whole.

That case is made when it comes to smacking because the interests of children require protection by the state. The principle that physical violence by the strong against the weak is wrong is so important that it does not matter that a ban would be largely unenforceable.

In the case of hunting, there are no such fundamental principles. Most people accept that foxes have to die: arguments about the cruelty involved in one method rather than another are marginal.

Boxing is more difficult. The compromise argument, that the sport should be made safer, is now irrelevant. The regulations requiring medics on standby are now as strict as they reasonably can be, and still Paul Ingle nearly died. The one fact that cannot be legislated away is that boxing is dangerous. Unlike three-day eventing and mountaineering, which also often claim lives, hurting one's opponent is the purpose of the exercise.

Yet that is still not enough to justify a ban. Those who take part in boxing are consenting adults who know the risks and who have often used the sport to make something of their lives - Audley Harrison, who won gold for Britain at the Sydney Olympics, is a particularly impressive character - although that is hardly enough to justify the likely injuries.

Those of civilised sensibility might have hoped that the sport would decline, either because of public distaste or through its own corruption, but the opposite seems to be happening, with British boxing in particular enjoying a renaissance.

The tragedy of Mr Ingle should certainly give boxing fans pause. They ought to give up their barbaric sport, but it would be wrong for the state to force them to do so.

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