More brain injuries caused by sparring than real fights
Posted on 2016/03/01
BOXERS are more at risk of brain damage when sparring during training sessions than in actual fights, according to a research and opinion paper prepared by a Melbourne doctor with vast experience in the controversial sport.
Dr Peter Lewis also claims attempting to ban boxing — as many of his colleagues in the medical profession have long advocated — would be futile.
Dr Lewis’ views on sparring resonated this week when novice fighter and former Richmond footballer Shane Tuck revealed he had been nauseated by a heavy punch to the head during a training session before his professional ring debut last month, when he was knocked out so comprehensively he had to spend four days in hospital.
Tuck admitted he should have never gone ahead with the fight against fellow rookie Lucas Miller because “I knew I wasn’t right” — but he did not want to let people down by backing out of a commitment, especially as a well-known 173-game AFL player.
“I completely and utterly stuffed up,” he said.
Dr Lewis, who said he had officiated at 20,000 fights across various combat disciplines, was ringside when Tuck went down, quickly calling for oxygen and having him carried out of the ring on a stretcher, still unconscious.
In a thesis prepared with colleague Michael Wang and soon to be published in the British Medical Journal, Dr Lewis described boxing as “a popular activity with many health benefits” and said calls for it to be banned were not supported by any evidence it was particularly dangerous compared to other sports.
They did not mention two boxers had died after fights in Australia this year — and the statistics they quoted were selective, to say the least.
Their figures showed professional boxing had 7.6 deaths per 100,000 athletes, and amateur boxing 1.39.
Horse racing had 128, skydiving 126, mountaineering 51 and motorbike racing seven.
While a study of pro fighters in Victoria found the injury incidence was high — 250.6 per 1000 — more than 70 per cent were superficial.
“Pro boxing and sparring may cause brain injury known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is also associated with contact sports such as American football and rugby,” the thesis said.
The relative incidence of CTE was unknown, with no large studies conducted.
Dr Lewis and Dr Wang argued education, hydration and safer equipment would reduce the risks, while rule changes such as shorter fights, scoring for body shots and standing eight counts might also improve safety.
Sparring was a problem, they said, with most of the trauma contributing to brain damage sustained in training rather than in fights.
It was important to educate trainers and fighters about the need to go lighter in sparring sessions and dispel the myth fighters could be “hardened” by heavy sparring, which would reduce head trauma.
“Most boxers spar using 16-ounce gloves and fight with eight or 10-ounce gloves,” the thesis said.
“Heavier gloves are supposed to have more padding across the knuckles, but being heavier they transmit more momentum to the head. Lighter gloves with better knuckle padding should be used.”
Melbourne’s former world champion Sam Soliman, who is still active at 42, estimated he had spent 15,000 hours in fitness training, 2000 hours sparring and 45 hours fighting.
He said he received more head trauma sparring than fighting, saying he was trying harder not to get hit in a fight.