Structural changes are needed – the business of boxing needs reform, says Howard Kennedy
In order to better protect the long-term health and future viability of the sport, professional boxing needs a complete structural overhaul. It needs to divert funds away from individual and powerful promoters and invest them in safeguarding the interests of the sportsmen and women that put their lives on the line to entertain fans, says leading sports law firm Howard Kennedy.
The tragic death of boxer Scott Westgarth on 25 February just hours after a successful fight once again raises questions over the future of boxing and the health of fighters.
It is, says Howard Kennedy, a sport where money and influence is channelled through the hands of a small number of powerful promoters. Its governing body is drastically under-funded and there is no union representing the interests of boxers. The level of influence promoters exert is not seen in any other professional sport.
Joel Leigh, Partner, Howard Kennedy said:
“There is no doubt that boxers love what they do and need little persuasion to fight. In Westgarth’s post-fight interview, he said that he boxes ‘for fun’ – and that is part of the problem.
“The force of a professional boxer's fist is equivalent to being hit with a bowling ball travelling at 20 miles per hour. This is approximately 52 times the force of gravity – and will have caused the bleed in Westgarth's brain.
“There needs to be greater education for boxers of the risks they face, and the BBBC simply does not have the resources to do this.”
The boxing world has undergone substantial change in the intervening years and, to its credit, the BBBC and other regional Boards have taken significant measures to ensure medics are on-hand at professional fights and to have all boxers examined after each contest.
Boxers are subjected to regular MRI scans and if any deterioration is evidenced between scans, the boxer is suspended or, if necessary, their boxing license is withdrawn. Further, if a boxer fails to go the distance in a fight, they are suspended from fighting for a minimum of 28 days. This can be increased for a period of 45 days or, if a doctor deems it necessary, indefinitely. The BBBC will never permit a boxer to partake in a fight unless it is satisfied that it is safe for them to do so.
“But questions remain,” says Leigh. “Did Westgarth fully realise that 90% of boxers will suffer brain damage at some point in their careers? Is the BBBC funding the education of fighters in all the foreseeable risks?”
“We are concerned that this is not the case. The funds are simply not there to support such education programmes, and that leaves the BBBC at risk to court action.”
And it is not just the regulator that funds need to be diverted to.
Jake Calvert, a member of Howard Kennedy’s sport law team said:
“What organisations are there to support Westgarth's family? Or Nick Blackwell, when he had to be put in a medically-induced coma and was told he could never box again?
“In rugby you have the RPA and in football the PFA making sure that there is proper support in place. In boxing, who is there to look after the interests of the boxer? It is left to the promoters and the managers, whose judgment may be clouded by financial incentives.”
Howard Kennedy suggests that the only real answer is for a fundamental reform of professional boxing, where power and influence moves away from individual promoters.
Calvert says: “There is no other single professional sport structured in the same way as boxing. Very few professional boxers make enough money to support themselves for their entire lives, let alone fund a union to represent their interests. Reform that sees a properly funded governing body and a union has to be the way forward.
“This could be done by requiring that a proportion of a fighter and his or her team's earnings for a fight be paid to the BBBC, or by capping the percentage a promoter can earn from an event so that the boxer earns more and therefore has funds available to finance a union.
“When the stakes are so high, we need to consider why world-level professional boxers and promoters can earn millions from a fight, but a British-level professional boxer cannot afford to pay for membership in a union that represents his or her interests.”
About Howard Kennedy
Howard Kennedy has 53 partners and numbers 350 people in total and works alongside national and international clients across many disciplines, including banking, corporate and commercial, family, finance, employment, dispute resolution, intellectual property, private client, real estate and tax. Howard Kennedy has particular focus on the Financial Services, Media and Technology, Real Estate, Retail and Leisure, Sports Individuals sectors.
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