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Monday, 23 November 1998
Page: 464

Dr NELSON (10:45 PM) —I wish to return to the topic of underage boxing. There is a darker side in all human beings that is unleashed by watching two people fight. If you have ever attended a boxing match or you have been in a smoke-filled bar room where they are watching a Sky broadcast of a boxing match, it is just as interesting to watch the impact on spectators as it is participants. This raises the question: does our continued celebration of the sport say something of the kind of society we want to become?

Boxing remains a popular sport—not only amongst blokes looking for footy results and race forms in smoke-filled bars; its success also relies heavily upon the promotion of boxing in the childhood years. Whilst amateur boxing has a proud and altruistic history, there is little justification for seeing it continue. Underage boxing by both boys and girls is even less defensible. The risk of acute fatality in the ring at an amateur school and club boxing bout is close to zero. The big health risk for children in boxing is the effect of repeated minor blows which cause cumulative damage to an organ that is irreparable—the brain.

Whilst showing no clinical signs at the time of death, autopsies on amateur boxers killed in their twenties confirm high-tech magnetic resonance imaging findings of dramatic brain damage. Knockouts, of course, are a serious problem, but more recent scientific examination of the impact of boxing on the human brain finds that it is the repeated blows over a number of years that ultimately lead to dementia, deafness and a form of Parkinson's disease. About 15 per cent of those who pursue careers in professional boxing will end up with dementia, and there is every indication at the moment that amateur boxers who pursue the sport for a prolonged period of time will certainly suffer a degree of brain damage.

Young girls, who have been the subject of controversy in the last week, also risk damage to developing breast tissue, an issue that did not feature too heavily during the debate, if you can call it that. The brain should not be the target in any sport. Accidents and fatalities occur in rugby and soccer, but they do so either by accident or by the breaking of rules. The intention of boxing is to inflict damage on the brain of your opponent until such time that he or she is incapable of continuing. Why the testicles are out of bounds but not the brain is a question that boxing authorities should answer.

The argument that boxing gives underprivileged kids a chance in life and keeps them off the streets is not a defence of the sport but an indictment of the sort of society that we are. Many such young people are tethered to a value system that bodes ill for economic success, and worship of boxers worsens the odds and exploits an already overexploited group of people. I would be surprised if those who were arguing in defence of underage boxing—in one case last week we saw 11-year-old girls boxing—had high levels of education. I would be surprised if the parents of children who were participating in this were High Court judges, academics, medical practitioners or others that you would associate with high degrees of socioeconomic background and education. Any scholarly examination of the careers of notable boxers—those one in a thousand who actually make the big time—confirms that success is illusory. There is little difference between what boxing supposedly helps them avoid and the tragic option socially if not physically that the sport represents.

We banned cockfighting because it degrades those who watch and societies that allow it to occur. So too children's boxing is incompatible with an enlightened, caring society. No parent has the right to expose a child's brain to injury and to do so knowingly. You are required to be 16 before you can consent to sexual activity or to smoke cigarettes. I fail to see why you should be able to expose your brain to damage under the age of 16. In fact, I think that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs could do well to conduct a review of the literature, to take submissions from right across Australia and to consider what approach we might take at a national level to control, regulate and hopefully prohibit boxing in children, particularly under the age of 14 if not 16. It goes to the heart of what sort of society we want to be, what sorts of values that we might have and, in particular, it will move us away to some extent from a culture of violence. (Time expired)