Boxing is one of the sporting disciplines that poses higher risk of head injuries that can eventually lead to death, short or long term paralysis.
It is not surprising that authorising bodies continually review its rules to safeguard lives.
Just recently, World Boxing Council (WBC) directed its affiliates including the Malawi Professional Boxing Control Board to trim rounds for title fights from 12 to 10.
Boxing has evolved over the years; as in the past, boxers could fight up to 20 rounds which was later trimmed to 15.
According to quora.com, WBC reduced rounds for title bouts from 15 to 12 in the early 1980’s.
It was one of the measures implemented first by the World Boxing Council (WBC) to reduce the risk of life threatening brain injuries in a boxing match. Eventually, all boxing organisations will follow suit in the 1980s.
The article further stated that the reduction of rounds from 15 to 12 occurred because of the tragic 15 round fight between Ray Mancini and Duk Koo Kim in 1982 which resulted in the death of Duk Koo Kim in hospital, four days after the fight.
Malawi is no exception as it also lost an enterprising boxer Ackim Singini after suffering head injuries in a fight in Zambia.
There are several examples that have blurred the boxing scene emerging from injuries suffered during bouts.
In December last year, a female boxer Chimwemwe Banda, drew public sympathy following reports that she was battling for her life at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe after suffering head and body injuries in her third round Technical Knock Out loss.
The boxer reportedly fainted four times before her condition improved.
Even though Banda was declared fit and sound after MPBCB President Lonzoe ‘Defector’ Zimba took her medical scans to a private hospital, it was still feared that the female boxer could be haunted by the injuries suffered at the hands of Felister Modestol.
Following the development, Zimba encouraged boxers to undergo thorough medical check-ups, including head scans annually.
“This is the onus of everyone. Boxers need to get medical examination to be certified fit. We know it is expensive to undergo scan but we are talking with the government to see how best they can assist us,” he said.
Nevertheless, local physiotherapist Charles Nyasa affirms that boxing is one of the contact sports with higher risks of head injury.
“This is due to the nature of the sport itself and due to the tendency for participants to take advantage by jabbing an opponent’s head, so as to win by a knockout. That particular female athlete might have sustained a head injury which has most likely been an accumulation of sub-concussive damages accrued over the period of her career,” he said.
Nyasa said such injuries require proper examination and medical facilities where boxers will be advised on the prognosis of their condition and the possibility to continue boxing career.
“The major problem lies with the authorities. As is the case with most Malawian sport administrators, athletes are neither mandated nor encouraged to undergo medical screening before the start of a season. Pre-participation evaluation allows early identification of injuries, injury risks, including risk for sudden death where players who are deemed unfit are referred for medical attention.
“This is the standard practice at the global boxing scene and it is surprising that Malawi has not adopted it to date. Malawian boxers need to undergo medical clearance before participation and this can be done at least yearly,” he said.
However, an avid boxing fan, Charles Fulaye, asked referees and other officials to keenly monitor the fight and call it off in case of pending trouble.
“Frequent clinching is disallowed and referees normally disqualify a boxer that is frequently clinching. Tough Ben Chitenje was once disqualified against Justice Mahilasi for the same,” he said.
Fulaye said the referee must be alert to guard against foul play which might lead to head injuries.
“Head butting is a serious offence in boxing and earns instant disqualification by referee. When a boxer has taken three consecutive punches without response the referee may have two options: to stop the fight or depending on the rules of the sanctioning body, the referee may give the boxer taking punishment a standing eight count then ask the boxer if he is in condition to continue.
“But the referee makes the final decision whether to stop the fight without even asking the affected boxer. Referee Richard Steele immediately stopped the bout between Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno after Tyson had landed three punches without response in the 1990s,” he recalled.
Similarly, Fulaye said Malawian referee Peter Kandikole also did the same after a local boxer Kadizi had taken two or three unanswered punches from a Ugandan boxer.
“Any slightest facial cut should be serious cause for stopping the bout. They [referees] have the power to enforce compliance to measures on ensuring boxers’ safety. When a boxer is knocked down the referee picks the count from the time keeper. And while he is counting, even if the boxer is up before the count of 10, the referee does check the eyes of the boxer for alertness. Sometimes he uses the forefinger by moving it side to side in front of the boxer’s face to check if the boxer is fit to continue or not before he stops a contest. The referee makes the final decision, whether or not the boxer, or his handlers protest,” he said.
Fulaye also called for proper medical equipment at the venue of the fight.
“The medical equipment required for ringside support needs to be enhanced. When a boxer collapses, there must be the right equipment. Even at football matches there is a properly equipped ambulance ready, in case of an emergency. And as you very well know sometimes the referee does not need to count at all but simply stop the fight right away,” he said.—BBC