The legality of boxing: a punch drunk love?

Boxer_getting_hit
Published: Wednesday, 23 September 2015. Written by Jack Anderson No Comments

On 11 September, Davey Brown Jr, fought Carlo Magali from the Philippines in a 12-round International Boxing Federation (IBF) super featherweight contest in Australia. Brown, the local fighter, was knocked out 30 seconds from the end of the final round. The 28-year-old father of two collapsed on his stool and was taken to hospital on suspicion of critical brain trauma. Four days later his family consented to his life support being turned off in a Sydney hospital.1

Six months previously, another Australian, Braydon Smith, died after losing a fight in his home tome of Toowoomba, Queensland. Smith had collapsed 90 minutes after his bout and died two days later.2

The day after Davey Brown’s death, South African fighter Mzwanele Kompolo collapsed and died on being knocked out in the first round of a bout in the Eastern Cape.3

These fatalities raise medical, moral, ethical and legal concerns about the sport of boxing.

In legal terms, the English courts have long recognised that in contact sports not every foul, even one occasioning serious injury, is necessarily a crime because injury and hurt is, to a certain level, consensual and, moreover, is usually incidental and accidental to the playing of the game in question.

Boxing stretches this legal tolerance to its limit.

Boxing is similarly on the extreme when it comes to the concussion “crisis” currently afflicting rugby4 and American football.5 World Rugby and the NFL have had to deal with accusations that the frequency of injury is such that concussion is fast becoming an “occupational hazard” for its players. It has always been thus for boxers.

In short, the most efficient way of winning a professional bout is by way of knockout. A knockout is a temporary stunning of the body’s most sensitive organ. Put another way (admittedly somewhat provocatively) a central aspect of the scoring system in professional boxing is that it rewards the deliberate infliction of brain damage.

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About the Author

Jack Anderson

Jack Anderson

Jack Anderson is Professor and Director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne. The sports law program at Melbourne was one of the first to be established globally in the mid-1980 and continues to expand at the Melbourne Law School, which itself is ranked in the top 10 law schools globally.

Jack has published widely in the area including monographs such as The Legality of Boxing (Routledge 2007) and Modern Sports Law (Hart 2010) and edited collections such as Landmark Cases in Sports Law (Asser 2013) and EU Sports Law (Edward Elgar 2018 with R Parrish and B Garcia). He was Editor-in-Chief of the International Sports Law Journal from 2013 to 2016.

Jack is a former member of CAS (2016-2019).  He is currently a member and arbitrator for World Athletics’ Disciplinary Tribunal, the National Sports Tribunal of Australia and the Football Federation of Victoria.  He is a member of International Hockey Federation’s Integrity Unit and Basketball Australia’s National Integrity Advisory Committee.  in 2019, he was appointed to the International Tennis Federation’s Ethics Commission and is currently a Board Member of Harness Racing Victoria.

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