by Gary Burns
In 2013 the International Boxing Association (AIBA) introduced a new rule so that male fighters would no longer wear protective head guards during bouts. While this is not the first time amateur boxers have not been required to use headgear, the commonwealth games have certainly brought the decision under more scrutiny. The topic of head injuries, in particular concussion, is a hot topic in sport in general at the moment with the Premier League announcing changes to the rules yesterday.
Two statistical reviews were carried out by the AIBA Medical Commission and an additional study was conducted by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, reviewing almost 30,000 bouts spanning 59 years. In short the statistical analysis indicated that the removal of head guards would result in a decreased number of concussions.
The logic beneath the decision is that wearing of head guards protects a fighter against the full impact of punches so therefore a fighter can take more punishment, meaning that in the long run fighters are more prone to head injuries. Research in similar 'Peltzman Effects' for sport have been carried out on Winter Sports particpants to see how risk attitudes differ when helmets are worn on the slopes.
There has been a huge divide in opinion on the matter however. Former Olympic silver medallist and current pro Amir Khan has weighed in on the issue in Glasgow this week. He pointed out that without the use of headgear fighters are more prone to damaging cuts. His point was a cut for a fighter that is expected to fight 5 or 6 bouts in a short period of time can result in them losing a bout or not being cleared to fight their next bout. Clear favourites can lose out on medals as a result of cuts. Australian Daniel Lewis’ sustained a cut in his last 16 welterweight fight bout and after medical assessment was deemed to have too severe a cut to take part in his quarter final bout. His opponent was given a walkover into the semi-final, guaranteeing him a medal. Cuts however are not always an indicator of dominance in a fight. They can be sustained by accidental head-butts and there is also a significant variance in how easy certain fighters are cut.
The sight of free flowing blood in amateur bouts has also raised concerns about how the sport is perceived and participation of children could be affected if the image of the sport moves towards a pro mentality.
The kernel of the debate relates to costs and the trade off between short versus long term ones.While supporters of the new rules would argue that the long term affects are too costly to justify the use of head guards, the notable increase in blood injuries in the short term may be too much of a cost for those that believe they should be re-introduced.
The AIBA has said it will review its position and potentially reassess its decision. As Ireland's Olympic medal count relies heavily on boxers the decision will affect the Irish Olympic team. Female boxers are still required to wear the head guards however so as of now the rule would not affect Katie Taylor.