LETTER : `Hidden' statistics that reveal boxing's lethal purpose

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From Dr Helen C. Grant

Sir: I have the greatest respect for Nicky Piper and agree with most of what he says (Another View: "Freedom to fight", 28 February). In addressing the horror of the acute, catastrophic intra-cranial haemorrhage in boxing bouts, he states, correctly, "statistically, boxing is much safer than other major sports". He is using as his criterion of safety the dramatic and immediately life-threatening brain injuries which occasionally occur in the ring and which, quite rightly, receive worldwide coverage.

They are indeed rare, thank goodness: in the UK we have had Steve Watt (1986), Michael Watson (1991), Bradley Stone (1994) and now Gerald McLellan. What Mr Piper does not mention - because he, like everybody else is unaware of them and the British Boxing Board of Control wants to keep it that way, of course - are the appalling statistics which emerge if long-term brain damage is taken as the criterion of boxing hazard.

Some years ago an inquiry of 185 UK neurologists into their encounters with brain-damaged patients associated with a variety of sports were asked which sports were responsible. These were their figures: soccer five, rugby two, wrestling two, parachuting (500 jumps) one, riding 12 and boxing 289.

Mr Piper also states "we boxers are under no illusion ... when we enter the ring". But they are because, as teenagers with stars in their eyes, they are not told about the likelihood of finishing up demented: they are only warned about eye damage (remediable) and about the very rare bleeds (also, in the very best circumstances, survivable).

Mr Pipe has a very high IQ, but it is unlikely to stay that way unless he gives up boxing. Muhammad Ali also had a very high IQ. Steve Watt was a very bright young man when he succumbed to a bleed (because he did not get to a neurosurgeon soon enough) and, as was reported in your columns yesterday, I was horrified to discover upon examining his brain that this 28-year-old already had severe old brain damage.

That bright young man Barry McGuigan said, in 1988: "Boxing damages your brain, don't let anybody tell you different." And Terry Marsh, also known to have a high IQ, said, in 1987: "I don't need the BMA to tell me getting hit on the head can't do me any good." Nicky Piper, please note. Stick to writing and keep your brain functioning.

Yours faithfully,



London, NW3

28 February