Boxing injuries rank eighth in frequency among sports injuries. According to the Report on the Medical Aspects of Boxing issued by the Committee on Boxing of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1969, of 224 ex-professional boxers examined, 37 showed evidence of brain damage and this was disabling in
The ﬁrst type of damage occurs as an acute episode in which one or more severe blows leads to loss of consciousness and occasionally to death. Death in the acute phase is usually due to intracranial haemorrhage and this carries a mortality of 45 per cent even with the sophisticated surgical techniques currently available. The second type of damage develops over a much longer period and is cumulative, leading to the atrophy of the cerebral cortex and brain stem. The repair processes of the brain are very limited and even after mild concussion it may suﬀer a small amount of permanent structural damage. Brain-scanning techniques now enable brain damage to be detected during life, and brain damage of the type previously associated with the punch-drunk syndrome is now being detected before obvious clinical signs have developed. Evidence of cerebral atrophy has been found in relatively young boxers including amateurs and those whose careers have been considered successful. The tragedy is that brain damage can only be detected after it has occurred. Many doctors are opposed to boxing, even with the present, more stringent medical precautions taken by those responsible for running the sport. Since the Royal College’s survey in 1969, the British Medical Association and other UK medical organisations have declared their opposition to boxing on medical grounds, as have medical organisations in several other countries.
In 1998, the Dutch Health Council recommended that professional boxing should be banned unless the rules are tightened. It claimed that chronic brain damage is seen in 40–80 per cent of boxers and that one in eight amateur bouts end with a concussed participant.
There is currently no legal basis on which to ban boxing in the UK, although it has been suggested that an injured boxer might one day sue a promoter. One correspondent to the British Medical Journal in 1998 suggested that since medical cover is a legal requirement at boxing promotions, the profession should consider if its members should withdraw participation.