While boxing accounts for fewer deaths than many other sports, the BMA (British Medical Association) says this is insignificant compared to the effects of brain damage that may go unrecorded in many boxers.
Cuts and bruises are the most common boxing injuries, and many boxers leave the ring needing stitches to the face and dental work. Body blows can lead to broken ribs and internal bleeding, potentially blinding eye injuries can be difficult to detect except by specialist examination.
But, as boxing involves powerful people hitting each other repeatedly, often around the head, there are other risks - most serious of all being permanent severe brain damage, while other injuries repair relatively easily, brain tissue, once damaged, remains damaged.
The symptoms of such brain damage - commonly known as being "punch drunk" - include slurred speech, slow reactions and even occasional blackouts (‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy’). Over 80% of professional boxers have serious brain scarring on MRI scans.
Brain damage occurs in one of two ways:
- Catastrophically, meaning it follows an injury sustained in a single bout, when a blood vessel in the skull burst and a clot put pressure on the brain tissue, meaning the brain damage builds up as a result of repeated blows to the head
The BMA, which represents 84% of the UK's doctors, opposes boxing primarily because of the threat to the brain and eyes.