The father-in-law of a fighter who died in a charity boxing bout says similar fundraising events are still taking place in New Zealand without adequate safeguards.
Kain Parsons, a 37-year-old father of three, died in November 2018 after being critically injured in a charity event called Fight For Christchurch.
“The money he raised for a children’s charity is small compensation for the family he left behind,” said Dr Peter Benny in an essay published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.
“No tragedy like this occurs in isolation, and analysis of the associated issues is paramount to protect the participants in such fundraising events in the future.”
Corporate bouts were briefly stopped after Parson’s death, but restarted again with some in-house rule changes.
Dr Benny, a retired gynaecologist, said these changes were made without the benefit of an external inquiry by a coroner. Because of backlogs in the justice system, a coronial inquest into Parson’s death had not yet taken place.
Dr Benny told the Herald that his personal preference was for charity boxing to cease altogether. But given that was unlikely, he was seeking stricter, evidence-based regulations which reflected the risks of the sport.
In his essay, he said a “progressive” coroner might recommend changes to the matching of contestants, more careful medical assessment of fighters to identify risk factors, and a fully informed consent process which takes into account the risks and impacts of head injuries.
Amateur and professional boxers are graded on weight and experience, which protects fighters from dangerous mismatches. In charity boxing, there is much more limited analysis of fighters’ capabilities.
Dr Benny said significant developments had been made in head injury assessments in other sports, in particular rugby. But these rigorous standards - such as a 10-minute stand-down after a concussion assessment - would not work in charity boxing.
“If competitions are to continue to provide rewards to the stakeholders, then the only way they can continue into an era of enlightened brain protection is to make the head sacrosanct, as in other contact sports.”
He also questioned the principles of the organisations which benefitted from fundraising fights.
“Is it ethical for charities to benefit from two people purposely attempting to cause concussion in each other?”
After Parson’s death, Boxing New Zealand - the governing body for amateur and Olympic-style boxing - ended its involvement with corporate boxing events.
It softened its stance after members complained the events were a valuable source of income, but drafted regulations in a bid to make the events safer.
The New Zealand Professional Boxing Association also introduced new rules for charity events at the beginning of 2019, including mandatory protective equipment and a maximum of one standing eight-count before a fight was stopped.
Boxing New Zealand president Steve Hartley told the Herald that despite some changes, corporate boxing was still flawed.
“The rules and restrictions that are designed to prevent injury or head trauma are very lax and have no scientific backing to support the safety of the participant, especially when one participant is at a definitive physical disadvantage,” he said.
Amateur boxers were taught the basics of defence and how to lessen the impact of punches, he said.
“In corporate boxing … very few are taught defence or how to mitigate the effects of blows.
“Of course, the crowd gets what it came for and the promoter is grinning all the way to the bank.”
Parsons’ death was one of a series of serious incidents related to charity boxing over a period of three years.
In September 2016, Hamilton man Neville Knight, 49, was killed in a charity boxing match.
In August 2018, Auckland gym Boxing Alley cancelled all corporate events after a fighter, Lars Jacobsen, suffered a serious head injury which required emergency neurosurgery.
The same month, a West Auckland gym took the same step after rookie fighter Joel Rea was hospitalised in a full-contact heavyweight bout after just a few weeks of training.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the process of setting up an inquest into Parsons’ death had just begun and a hearing was unlikely to take place until next year.
Isaac Davison is an Auckland-based reporter who covers health issues. He joined the Herald in 2008 and has previously covered the environment, politics, and social issues.