Last week, when I read about Australian Medical Association’s stand on combat sports and their call for boxing to be banned from Olympics and Commonwealth games, I was not surprised. Given that entering a boxing ring poses greater risk (in terms of probability) of a head injury than riding a two-wheeler without helmet for a comparable duration, and given that most modern civilizations have outlawed riding without helmet, it is only logical to ask for similar restrictions to be placed on participation in combat sports (requiring to wear protective gear, at the very least). So, should full-contact combat sports be banned?
Consistent with my opinion on laws mandating helmet for two-wheeler riders (about which I have written earlier), I am strongly against banning combat sports completely, or imposing regulations to the extent of diluting the spirit of the game. For me, it is an infringement on the right of people to engage in an activity that they enjoy as long as they know the risks involved and do not pose a threat to anyone who has not made an informed choice to accept that risk. Rights, however, are neither objective, nor universal. They merely reflect the views of those in power. In a democracy, this roughly translates to what a majority considers necessary (or at least acceptable). If I can influence the few who read this piece to take a more tolerant view on the subject, that would make my effort worthwhile.
Before I get into why it is a bad idea to restrict combat sports, I must grant that the arguments of those who propose it are also not entirely without value. Boxing, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and the kind are not benign sports by any standard. Most of the athletes in this field suffer from injuries at some point in their career and some of these result in permanent damage to their brain or other vital organs. I share the sentiment that information on these injuries need to be captured accurately and made available for all to study and make an informed decision on pursuing the sport. I completely agree that minors should not be allowed to take part in such tournaments. I also support subjecting media coverage of these sports to similar controls as are in place for television screening of violence. But that is as far as I will go with them.
Regarding the injuries suffered by participants, to reiterate my earlier point, these are a result of a conscious choice made by these participants, and thus not for the law or medical associations to meddle in; period.
The claim that such sports make people more violent, on the other hand, is to be given a more serious consideration. Such a claim, however, would be very hard to ascertain, and much harder to establish, because even if we compare rate of violent crime among participants and viewers of combat sports against that of a more general sample, there are different ways in which the results can be interpreted. For example, if it turns out that crime rate is higher in the control sample, it might just be that people who are violent by nature are easily drawn to these sports. So having data around this cannot add much more value to the discussion than what we can arrive at through a subjective analysis.
While analyzing the impact of combat sports on aggressive tendencies, I think it is important to differentiate between the effect on viewers of the sport and its participants. Viewing of violent sports cannot be very different from being exposed to violence in movies and video games. As long as we are okay with the latter, we shouldn’t be too concerned about the former. So let us turn our attention to the potential psychological effects that the sport can have on the athletes taking part in it. If we consider only the event, in which the contender gets into a ring or a cage with the sole object of besting his opponent, I am inclined to think that it will feed his aggressive behavior. However, the training that he has to undergo to enter that event will likely have taught him to rein in that tendency. This is especially true in the case of those who come from a traditional martial arts background and, perhaps, less applicable for those who pursue it purely as a sport.
Even for those who enter combat sports with no greater purpose than they liking the sport and being good at it, this can serve as an effective channel to vent their aggression without causing trouble to those who do not wish to get involved.
In this way, I think these sports have a role in reducing violence on the streets. Another way in which combat sports might be helping to bring down crime is by giving young men who are good at fighting a chance to legally make a living by using their abilities. Without such an opportunity, they will probably have to fight in illegal tournaments fraught with greater danger or, worse still, they might end up being used by anti-social elements. Even though this might sound like a bit of exaggeration, there still are lot athletes out there who make their living out of these sports, because there are people willing to pay to watch them fight. These athletes either do not have a safer option to make money, or they still choose this option because they love it – in either case, I think it is unjust to deny them their cup of tea.
These are some of the reasons why I think we should continue to allow people to engage in full-contact fighting tournaments as long as it is their own informed choice. If you have more compelling reasons which reinforce this point, or if you do not agree with my thoughts, you are most welcome to express yourself through the comments section.
Raman is a mechanical engineer by training, software architect by profession, martial artist by passion, and philosopher by nature. He believes in spirituality as the panacea for all of the world’s problems.
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