One of professional boxing's most interesting developments is taking place outside the ring. Those involved in the sport have come to realize that advances in injury prevention should be made. Various proposals have been discussed 'in recent years, among them the establishment of a federal commission that would regulate every aspect of boxing. But boxing's decentralized structure, its history of dubious ethics, foreign control of the WBA and WBC (headquartered in Panama and Mexico, respectively) and the problem of funding have made that solution an unlikely one. Meanwhile, stopgap measures—standing eight counts, shorter title fights and thumbless gloves—have been adopted piecemeal.
Now the sport's movers and shakers are seriously considering an approach based on a device already in use in the 10-year-old Professional Karate Association. In April 1983 the PKA, concerned about the physical welfare of its own fighters, who receive blows from both hands and feet, began issuing a medical passbook to each of its 2,000 registered professional and amateur fighters in the United States and Canada. By the end of the year, the passbooks were also issued in Europe. The 22-page, 3½" X 6" book, similar in appearance to a U.S. passport, contains a wealth of information: the fighter's medical history, his record, doctors' comments about his physical condition and a month-by-month summary of the fighter's bouts during the last calendar year. "The passbook does the job it was intended to do," says PKA chairman Judy Quine, who helped develop it. "It documents a fighter's status before he steps into the ring."
The passbook is backed up by a computer in the PKA's Beverly Hills headquarters, which stores fight information and doctors' comments for crosschecking, and a worldwide network of 200 PKA reps who are responsible for monitoring all sanctioned fights and for checking passbooks.
Obviously, with only 3,500 fighters, the PKA can police itself much more easily than can boxing, but it's clear that widespread acceptance of a PKA-type passbook would be extremely useful. While no PKA fighters have been seriously injured since the organization's birth 10 years ago, Quine says the passbook will ensure that this enviable record is maintained. "We have turned down fighters on a number of occasions," she says.
"You hear some complaints, but everybody in the PKA, even the fighters who get turned down, understands in the long run it's for their own good."
And it would be for the good of boxers, too. "You don't need a federal commission," Quine says. "Set up a federal task force, one that would function for a limited period of time. It would have the authority to standardize record keeping, rules and safety measures, that is, all mouthpieces, gloves and pre-and postfight regulations would be the same."
And who would enforce the regulations, bringing the fiercely independent state and local commissions and the WBA and WBC into line? Quine believes the boxing organizations could be persuaded to accept the concept of the passbook, and of uniform standards, and that across-the-board enforcement would work if an official from the commission sanctioning a given fight or an outside inspector (whose salary would be paid by means of relatively modest increases in the promoter's fee) were to oversee it. Another increase in the promoter's fee or some of the fight's state-held tax revenue could be funneled back into the sport to underwrite the enforcement program.
John Condon, who's worked for Madison Square Boxing for the past quarter of a century and has been its president for the past four years, applauds the plan. "I like it," he says. "You'd have to get qualified boxing people on that task force, not political hacks, but it could work. And I like the idea of putting those commission people to work. Half of them don't do anything."
Many states, it should be pointed out, have shown a progressive outlook. For example, the New York Athletic Commission currently operates a boxing program similar to the PKA's with "passports" linked to a central computer. While the universal adoption of a passbook program wouldn't guarantee a successful trip to the ring, it would certainly increase the likelihood of a safe one.