The legality of boxing: a punch drunk love?
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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- Tags: Australia | Boxing | British Medical Association | Concussion | Governance | International Boxing Federation (IBF) | Martial Arts | National Football League (NFL) | Regulation | South Africa | UFC | United Kingdom (UK) | World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) | World Boxing Association (WBA) | World Boxing Council (WBC) | World Boxing Federation (WBF) | World Rugby
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Jack Anderson is a Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne where he teaches criminal law, the law of torts and sports law.
Jack has published widely in the area of sports law and 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). He was Editor-in-Chief of the International Sports Law Journal based at the International Sports Law Centre at the Asser Institute from 2013 to 2016. He is Honorary Member of the Centre for Sports Law, Sports Policy and Sports Diplomacy, University of Riejeka, Croatia and an external examiner at the University of Malaya.
An accredited workplace mediator and a Chartered Arbitrator, (CArb). Jack is an arbitrator on the international panel for Sport Resolutions UK and World Athletics’ Disciplinary Tribunal. Jack is a member of International Hockey Federation’s Integrity Unit and a founding member of the Asia Racing Federation’s Anti-Illegal Betting Taskforce. In Australia, Jack sits on the disciplinary tribunal of the Football Federation of Victoria and for Basketball Australia. In 2019, Jack was appointed by the Victoria government to the Board of Harness Racing Victoria. He is Vice-President of Gaelic Games Victoria.
From 2016-2019, he was a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and appeared on the list of arbitrators of the CAS Ad hoc Division for the UEFA EURO 2016 (European football championships). He was the sole CAS arbitrator at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. In 2019, he was appointed to the International Tennis Federation’s Ethics Commission and was asked by the Australian government to chair the advisory committee to prepare for the establishment of a national sports tribunal. In 2020, he was appointed as a member of the National Sports Tribunal of Australia.