Leading Article: Freedom to fight

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The Independent Online
Many people predicted that the Benn-McClellan contest would be a particularly brutal fight between two well-matched, supremely fit and skilful world champions, but nobody imagined it would have such a tragic outcome.

I have no doubt that the stringent medical controls called for by the Professional Boxers' Association over the past 10 months, and enforced by the British Boxing Board of Control last Saturday, saved the life of Gerald McClellan.

Following the death of Bradley Stone last year, the PBA called for changes to medical procedures, the main requirement being that a qualified anaesthetist be present at all boxing shows to sedate any injured boxer. Sedation minimises the chances of brain damage through increased blood pressure. Though enforced by the BBBC on Saturday, it has yet to be adopted on a permanent basis at bouts - which is outrageous. That said, British procedures are still by far the most stringent in the world.

Statistically, boxing is much safer than other major sports such as rugby, horse racing and motor racing. In a survey carried out by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Sporting Injuries, boxing did not feature in the top 28 most dangerous sports for head and spinal injuries. Yet on those rare occasions that a boxer is injured, the anti-boxing brigade comes out in force.

This vocal minority claims boxing is barbaric. Some people are unable to appreciate the sporting element, preferring instead to concentrate on the "aim to maim" element of the game.

Unfortunately, when an injury is sustained in a boxing ring it is seen by millions of television viewers and people are falsely given the impression that these incidents are commonplace. It would be wrong for me to claim that boxing is a safe sport: it is a physical form of chess, requiring intelligence, skill and a very high level of fitness.

We boxers are under no illusion as to the danger of the sport when we enter the ring. Nobody is forced to fight, and both men are well paid for providing superb entertainment to people from every background.

Boxing is the oldest and most exciting sport in the world, bringing discipline to man's natural instinct to fight. A ban on boxing would simply drive it underground, where medical controls would be scant and pairings of ill-matched boxers would undoubtedly lead to far more injuries.

Don't forget: less popular sports, such as dog and cock-fighting, were banned but still take place with alarming regularity.

Nobody is forced to watch boxing, and no boxer is made to fight. Contestants are consenting adults and know the risks involved. As long as they are not hurting anybody else, what right does anyone have to tell these boxers what to do? It is, after all, a free world. Let's keep it that way.

Nicky Piper, chairman of the PBA, fought Nigel Benn for the WBC super- middleweight championship in 1992.