Boxing can self-regulate, right?

The following statement about boxing and combat sports was issued by the former Beattie Government back in 2007.  It has been lifted directly from the Ministerial Media Statements website and remains unedited.  Read it carefully.

 

Media Statements

Premier   and Minister for Trade
The Honourable Peter Beattie

PUBLIC URGED TO HAVE THEIR SAY ON BOXING AND COMBAT SPORTS

Premier and Minister for Trade
The Honourable Peter Beattie

Monday, August 20, 2007

PUBLIC URGED TO HAVE THEIR SAY ON BOXING AND COMBAT SPORTS

The Queensland Government will consult state sporting groups, medical bodies and community organisations about the potential need to regulate boxing and combat sports like martial arts, Premier Peter Beattie announced today.

Mr Beattie said combat sports had been linked with injuries to the brain, kidneys, head and neck and have even been known to result in death.

“Many organisations have their own rules or codes of conduct but there are no laws to ensure competitions are run appropriately,” Mr Beattie said.

“We need to assess whether safety risks associated with these sports justify greater regulation.

“This does not mean the Government is looking at banning these sports.

“But if we can improve the safety of competitors and improve event management through regulation then it’s obviously a worthwhile consideration.”

Mr Beattie said issues to be looked at as part of the discussion paper could include:

  • Providing specific requirements relating to the conduct of contests and events;
  • Prescribing an authority/commission/board as a governing body to implement and monitor legislation;
  • A register of fighters/contestants
  • Improved medical record keeping

The Minister for Sport, Andrew Fraser, said some medical bodies, such as the Australian Medical Association, advocated a ban on boxing.

“Other groups call for a more consolidated approach given the number of martial arts clubs across Queensland that operate under different guidelines,” Mr Fraser said.

“All these issues are worthy of consideration and that’s what the discussion paper aims to encourage.”

Mr Fraser said he wanted to ensure the safety of participants in boxing and other combat sports was not compromised.

“As it currently stands events that are banned in other states may still be conducted in Queensland. Promoters may potentially avoid restrictions in other jurisdictions by bringing their events to Queensland without due consideration to the rationale underpinning regulations in other jurisdictions,” he said.

Australian states vary in their approach to regulation of boxing and combat sports.

New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Western Australia all have regulations laws in place.

Tasmania has limited regulatory control while Queensland and the Northern Territory do not have laws specific to boxing and combat sports.

Copies of the discussion paper will be available on the Department of Local Government, Planning and Sport website and posted to stakeholders.

The public comment period will close on November 2, 2007.

Further inquiries: Premier’s Office: 3224 4500

Minister’s Office: 3227 8821

 

My reaction to the release

 

Back in 2007, I was working for ABC radio.  I thought Beattie and Fraser were honest.  The former Premier admitted there were no laws to ensure competitions are run appropriately.  Fraser, in an extremely convoluted sentence, admitted promoters could flaunt interstate regulations by moving bouts to Queensland, where they virtually had free reign.

 

That would’ve been a better way to say it.

 

The release attempted to quell any alarm by pointing out the loose regulations in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.  I asked a producer if he wanted a couple of stories about the discussion paper.  He said no, so I didn’t call anyone involved in boxing for their opinion.  I knew what they’d say.

 

In January 2008, during an idle moment, I called the Premier’s office, seeking an update.

 

The media advisors I talked to were ambivalent, what release about boxing?  I sent them the link to their press release and waited for an interview.  In February I called back, emailing the same link and seeking the same interview.

 

I tried once more in March and was never granted an interview with Beattie or Fraser about their discussion paper.  No other media promoted the government’s press release.

 

For one of the few times in my career as a journalist, I dropped a story.  Few people care about boxing and one of the ABC’s producers refused to run my stories about Australia’s fighters.

 

‘I don’t do boxing,’ he said.

 

‘I do, and these guys are fighting for world titles.’

 

He shook his head.

 

Despite loving boxing, I did not make a submission.  Misguidedly I thought my impartiality as a journalist would be tainted if I offered my opinion.  I should’ve shunned perceived objectivity and told the government what I thought about boxing.

 

My submission would’ve been detailed.  I would’ve asked for a state regulatory body to oversee boxing and other combat sports.  A key point would’ve been aimed at the promoters and trainers, who often pressure boxers to take fights when they haven’t been training.

 

If you don’t believe me, ask Craig Neimann.  He was offered fights even though the promoter knew he hadn’t been training.  The promoter did not care.  He needed a body in the ring, fit or not.

 

Fighters should provide a log as proof of training, totalling kilometres run and rounds sparred.  It is too easy for an unprepared fighter to get in the ring.  A promoter will never cancel a fight if he thought a boxer was unfit.

 

So I wasn’t surprised that Beattie or Fraser refused a follow-up interview.  I figured few people bothered to make a submission.  Those that did would’ve been involved in the industry, and they would’ve been united in their opposition to a state regulatory body.

 

The discussion paper was knocked out by those it offered to protect.  The government didn’t care.  It is not known how many submissions were received or how the government analysed the submissions.

 

 

Death matters not

 

It wasn’t until 2011, when 18-year old amateur boxer Alex Slade slumped off his stool at the end of the fourth round in Mackay that the discussion paper reappeared in the media.  Slade died in hospital a week later, without regaining consciousness.

 

Despite the death, former Sports Minister Phil Reeves ruled out regulating combat sports in Queensland.  He said the 2007 discussion paper found limited support for a regulatory body.

 

‘The Queensland government is always willing to look at ways to improve safety in sport,’ Reeves said.  ‘The tragic death of Alex Slade is now being investigated by the coroner.’

In the same statement, Reeves proved his limitations as a Minister, and the limitations of his boss.  His words are staggering in their ignorance and understanding of his portfolio.  Reeves, clearly, had no interest in boxing.

 

‘We have previously investigated three times whether there is a need to regulate boxing and combat sports but found limited community and industry support for this,’ he said.

 

It is unbelievable a Minister could be so naïve.  His statement didn’t get any better.  It went on with the same ineptitude.

 

‘Our public consultation found that most organised combat sports already implement and enforce rules and practices to ensure the safety of their participants.  The government will continue to monitor safety standards in combat sports but is not considering setting up a regulatory body at this time.’

 

Death, it seems, doesn’t require the supervision of a regulatory body.

 

Reeves, clearly, had no understanding of boxing and combat sports.  He didn’t elaborate on those rules and practices that ensure the safety of the participants.  The industry in Queensland, according to Reeves, had always been unregulated and was doing a good job looking after itself.

 

Reeves could not possibly be so silly as to wonder why the industry didn’t want to support regulation back in 2007.

 

Six years later, combat sports in Queensland, particularly boxing, remains an unpredictable enterprise.

 

The latest sham involving Sonny Bill Williams should be enough for the LNP’s sport Minister Steve Dixon to talk to sport Ministers in other states about the regulation of boxing.

 

If the rules are working in other states, they should be easy to implement.  Dixon could’ve been seen to be doing something proactive for boxing instead of remaining silent.  It’s too easy to say boxing is self-regulated, because it clearly isn’t.  If Dixon isn’t disturbed by the Williams fight, then he should quit.

 

To start with, Botha is 44 and had lost four of his previous five bouts.  It is questionable whether he should still be allowed to fight.  He was ranked 131 in the world.  Williams, at 27, was ranked at a hundred.  Somehow the winner would receive the WBA’s Intercontinental title.

 

Minutes before the fight, the promoters agreed to reduce the bout from twelve rounds to ten.  No one in the crowd knew of the change.  Reportedly one of the judges wasn’t aware either.

 

The scoring was also lopsided.  Botha did better than the judges thought.  Williams was a combination away from getting knocked out when the final bell rang.  After the fight, both camps were ragging on about the scheduled distance and talking about a rematch.

 

The next day Botha allegedly tested positive for steroids.  The test did not involve ASADA, WADA or any government appointed laboratory.  Botha was apparently tested by an independent laboratory.

 

I’m not suggesting there was anything untoward with the testing process.  Botha has tested positive for steroids before, and he was stripped of his world title.  But it seems strange that someone associated with the promotion would spend money on testing Botha when there were no legal requirements or state legislation demanding it.

 

The WBA has since distanced itself from the fight.  There were no WBA officials present.  The judges or referee were not appointed by the WBA.  The WBA, despite the billing, seemed caught unaware that people were fighting for their worthless trinket.

 

Betting agencies paid back about $150,000 to the punters who bet on Botha winning on points or by knockout in the eleventh or twelfth round.

 

If the betting agencies don’t know a fight has been shortened, then no one but a select few do.  It is proof the fight was originally scheduled for twelve rounds.

 

Betting agencies don’t like to lose money or hand it back.  It’s a fair bet they’ll be a little more cautious when Khoder Nasser brings his promotional tent to Queensland.

 

Last week, Alex Slade’s mother, Deborah Harris-McDonald, told the Brisbane Times that Queensland’s legislation had to change.

 

‘There has to be lots more regulations, especially in the state of Queensland,’ she said.  ‘The rest of the states in Australia have rules and regulations and legislation.’

 

Unfortunately for Alex, the self-regulated industry couldn’t protect him.  In the weeks following his death, various amateur associations argued over who was actually regulating the event.  No one, obviously, wanted to take the blame.  And Phil Reeves referred any squabble about regulations back to the industry.

 

‘We found out that Alex was not registered with any boxing association at the time of the fight,’ Mrs Harris-McDonald said.

 

That’s the beauty of self-regulation.  No one, not the government or the promoters, have to do anything to ensure the integrity or safety of boxing.

 

It’s all up to the fighters.  They have to protect themselves at all times, in and out of the ring.

 

 

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. Very considered and thoughtful piece, IM. In a perfect world, what you advocate would be implemented. But I kept thinking “if I was a Minister – would I care about this issue and these people – who is their constituency?”
    Its all very marginal, and sadly we care more for the $ the promoter makes, than the lives put on the line.
    I used to be a great boxing fan in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s – but then it became a parody of itself – so sadly noone cares about the WBA Incontinental Championship.
    At least cage fighting seems fair dinkum.

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    ‘We have previously investigated three times whether there is a need to regulate boxing and combat sports but found limited community and industry support for this,’ he said.

    Put another way: if there’s no heat on us, we won’t bother.

    Typical.

    Great stuff, Iron Mike, I’m loving your work and passion. But I’m not sure of your proposal for logging of kms covered and rounds sparred. A bit of creative accounting can always get around that . What about a govt appointed independent medical board that all boxers must prove their fitness and readiness to before a scheduled fight? Like workplace safety officers, board reps can visit gyms, or better still, the boxers can visit a neutral location, where they are put through their paces. If ready to fight, they receive the green light. If not, they don’t. And a standard waiting period from the date a new boxer registers with his/her state association before they are free to fight?

    It was obvious neither Williams nor Botha were properly fight ready and one or both could’ve been seriously hurt. I saw the look in Williams’ eyes in that last round – he was frightened and had lost the ability to protect himself. Fortunately for him rds 11 and 12 didn’t happen.

    Did you see the last preliminary fight before the Geale v Mundine bout? I watched it in a crowded pub and (I’m ashamed to say) laughed along at the sad spectacle with everyone else. Basically, it was between two heavyweights, one local, the other an American and neither looked fit enough to be in the ring. Both men were blowing by halfway through the first and each received some very heavy blows. The fight ended early – in the second, I think – when the Aussie copped a kidney punch that floored him. The winner spoke surprisingly eloquently afterwards, thanking his corner for rescuing him from the streets and giving him a purpose in life. I felt a mixture of pride and sadness for the man. But that’s boxing, I suppose.

    Keep up the fight, IM.

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