Boxing will be a different ball game altogether from Friday, as the rule banning the use of headgear by elite men in international competition, comes into effect.
The International Boxing Association — the AIBA dropped the word ‘Amateur’ from its title some time back — has backed the decision following a painstaking study by its Medical Commission which observed that the headgear only added to the risk of concussion — of a boxer becoming temporarily unconscious — owing to a blow or a series of blows on the head.
“Boxers have been fighting without headgear in World Series Boxing for the last three years. Tests have also been conducted for the last ten years by the John Hopkins University, and it has shown that there is no neural damage,” says Dr. Ashok Ahuja, who has been associated with the WSB, and has been travelling around the world for the boxing matches.
“Studies have also shown that it is not so much because of the punch, as it is because of the impact of the fall that boxers hurt their heads,” Dr. Ahuja says, even as he concedes that the sight of Muhammad Ali living with Parkinson’s disease had only reinforced apprehensions over boxing without a headgear.
Headgear came into vogue in amateur boxing in April 1984 in response to the American Medical Association’s threat to recommend the sport.
Some of the experts are concerned that the decision to ban headgear may return the sport to its gory days when blood on the ring was a relatively common occurrence.
World Cup medallist, V. Devarajan, who had competed in the Barcelona Olympics and later turned professional and fought a few bouts in England without headgear, predicts that the move would lead to more bouts being stopped owing to injuries, particularly cuts.
“In amateur boxing, we are used to fighting close in a ‘clinch’. In professional bouts, I’ve hurt my head by banging into my opponent, and have needed a few sutures,” recalls Devarajan, now a Sports Officer with the Railways, posted in Bilaspur.
“The doctors will have a lot of work in the ring from now on,” he warns, pointing out that many boxers in winning positions may lose bouts owing to medical intervention.
It may be recalled that Commonwealth Games champion Akhil Kumar had lost a bout in the World Championship in Baku in 2011, owing to a cut.
While agreeing that peripheral vision would be help boxers avoid punches to their head from the side when fighting without headgear, Devarajan says the danger of ear injuries causing deafness may increase.
AIBA’s other argument that an unprotected head may attract a lighter punch will be put to test soon.
Theory and long years of study of data from thousands of bouts may have convinced the AIBA Medical Commission to vote unanimously vote against headgear as a safety measure for elite men boxers.
Interestingly, women, and youth and junior men boxers will continue to wear headgear.
The glamourous professional bouts have all along been fought without any protection to the head. But, it remains to be seen if amateur boxing, driven mostly by the desire to win medals at the World Championships and the Olympics, is worth it.
The World Championship in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in October will perhaps throw up clear picture about the merits of the decision.