"Competitive boxing is beneficial for young people"

PUBLISHED: 01 Sep 2009

AUTHOR: Michael Mills

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In August 2009, International Olympic Committee chiefs voted to lift the barrier to the last all-male sport - boxing - meaning female boxers will have the chance to fight for gold at the 2012 Olympics [Ref: BBC]. This follows on from a perhaps surprising demand from some quarters to introduce boxing into British schools, with head-lines proclaiming: “Boxing back on the timetable in state schools.” [Ref: Daily Mail]. According to School Sport Magazine [Ref: School Sports Magazine], 2009 saw the first inter-school boxing contests since the mid-1960s taking place in Manchester and Plymouth, with further tournaments planned nationally. The School Amateur Boxing Association (SABA) has trained teachers in 45 schools across London, Manchester and the South-West. Further support has been leant by retired boxing champion and former Sports Personality of the Year winner Joe Calzaghe, who has spoken publicly of his support for making boxing mandatory in schools. [Ref: Wales Online] Elsewhere, think tank Civitas joined forces with the London Boxing Academy [Ref. Civitas]  and received some relatively enthusiastic acclaim [Ref. Guardian]. The sport is now being touted for its beneficial impact on the physical and mental health of young people. In the context of recent concern amongst policy makers and commentators about an obesity ‘epidemic’, ‘anti-social’ behaviour and a purported increase in childhood depression, perhaps boxing can play a positive role [Ref: BBC]. Proponents of the sport argue that young people could do with a good dose of the discipline, self-reliance and hard work that boxing instils and that the sport should be more widely encouraged. But others vehemently disagree. Traditional opponents of the sport, most notably the British Medical Association, [Ref: BMA] have condemned all proposals to encourage young people to ‘get boxing’ on medical grounds, and some critics go further still: boxing, says Dr George D Lundberg, ‘is an obscenity [that] should not be sanctioned by a civilised society’. Others remain unconvinced of whether boxing, or any competitive sport, should be used to serve these kinds of agendas at all. Is it time for young people to get in the ring, or to hang up the gloves?

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This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.

Why box, when you can….?
Descriptions of the practice of boxing from boxers, fans and coaches portray the sport as an exercise in discipline, self-control and dedication, not as an uncontrolled act of aggression [Ref: Independent]. Boxing promoter Frank Warren argues, “kids with lots of energy, maybe disruptive or a bully, can channel their aggression in the boxing gym” [Ref: The Sun]. Highlighting reports of out-of-control classrooms and stay at home youth, those pushing to introduce boxing into schools suggest that the sport can help develop those skills and traits that some young people are reportedly failing to gain elsewhere [Ref: Sweet Science]. But critics remain sceptical, arguing that there are plenty of other competitive contact sports in which young people can get involved that don’t carry the same risk [Ref: Wales Online]. Indeed, competitive sport has made a comeback in schools after an extended hiatus [Ref: Telegraph]. Following GB’s successes at the Beijing Olympics, Gordon Brown and others have reappraised the physical and moral benefits of competition, identifying its’ potential in tackling some of the problems thought to be blighting young people. So why look to boxing specifically to solve broader social and health problems, when it entails such obvious risks for the young?

Is competitive boxing a step too far?

Despite the supposed advantages of young people becoming involved in boxing, there are concerns when it comes to putting children in the ring to compete. The British Medical Association [Ref: Independent] and the charity Headway [Ref: Wales Online] oppose the sport of boxing altogether on the basis that the potential damage done to its competitors’ health is too severe to be justified in the name of fitness, entertainment, leisure or any other social effect. The sport has had its fair share of casualties; high profile examples include the brain bleed of Joe Mesi [Ref: New York Times] and the brain damage suffered by Gerald McClellan [Ref: Sports Illustrated, as well as the sport’s continued link with long-term neurological damage [Ref: Sunday Star Times]. For some, the idea that boxing should be re-introduced on health grounds sits uneasily with the concern that the sport could do real damage to the health of young people, particularly when there is evidence to suggest that amateur boxing poses similar risks [Ref: New Scientist]. But proponents suggest that concerns are overstated and accuse the BMA and others of paternalism [Ref:  New Humanist]. They argue that although there is a risk that young people will be injured when boxing, this is true of many types of sporting activity, including football, rugby, karate or hockey. Some of those pushing to widen participation in boxing argue that resistance to the sport is part of a broader cultural unease with competition [Ref: Manifesto Club], but others are less forgiving. Scottish columnist Brian Hennigan writes that most resistance to boxing ‘boils down to class snobbery’ and the perception that boxing is ‘a dirty, working-class sport.’

Is a boxing culture desirable?
Aside from objecting to the sport on medical grounds, some argue that endorsing a sport in which the primary aim is to render your opponent incapable is culturally beyond the pale. A number of recent studies report that, contrary to popular belief, rather than distilling aggression, participation in boxing and other contact sports actually increases young people’s propensity to violence [Ref: Psychology Today]. Critics of boxing, and competitive sport more widely, argue that the fundamental premise of competitive sport is to pit person against person, and is unacceptable in this day and age. Others, including former boxer and Labour MP Paul Flynn, argue that boxing is a degraded sport that exploits working class and ethnic minority young people, who are attracted to it. Indeed, even some of the sports’ most enthusiastic supporters have admitted to feeling some ambivalence about its values. Following the now infamous fight between Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao in May 2009 [Ref: The Times] sports journalist and boxing fan Matthew Syed argued that as Hatton was knocked to floor for the third time, all boxing fans had to ask themselves ‘how, in a civilised society, one can condone such a spectacle?’ But other fans are less defensive: boxing, says Times journalist Mick Hume, ‘is not a tickling contest’. Recognising that boxing is organised violence by consent does not mean that it is not a fascinating sport, ‘primal’ yet full of ‘balletic grace’. Others suggest that it is naive to suppose that aggression is not part and parcel of all sport. The point, they argue, is that sport, and boxing in particular, codifies and regulates aggression, putting it to a creative use. 


It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.

Sport spotlight: boxing

PE & Sport Today September 2007


Fighting youth crime through boxing

Leslie McCarthy Financial Times 9 February 2009

Boxing is the best way to stop violence in kids

Charlotte Leslie Guardian 14 April 2008

Boxing in schools is such a knockout idea

Brian Hennigan Scotsman 6 February 2007


Boxing’s injury toll a disgrace

Richard Boock Sunday Star Times 10 May 2009

Ricky Hatton and a punch felt around the world

Matthew Syed The Times 6 May 2009

Trust me I’m a junior doctor

Max Pemberton Telegraph 10 September 2007

Lack of Regulation, Not Tyson, Is Boxing’s Problem

Gregory Jordan New York Times 1 August 2004


When it comes to the punch…

Nick Morrison TES 7 March 2009

Boxing: it’s not a tickling contest

Rob Lyons spiked 10 December 2007

Legal fights likely to halt move for school boxing

Claire Hughs Yorkshire Post 10 December 2007

A noble art that is ethically cleansed from Tyson

Kate Hoey Guardian 22 October 2001


Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.


Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.

Landing a big punch for pupils’ discipline

Richard Fitzpatrick Irish Times 28 January 2009

Boxing Clever

Liz Lightfoot Guardian 17 June 2008

Boxing: Fight game punches its weight again in social rings

Alan Hubbard Independent 16 December 2007

Death in the ring has long been a part of boxing

Graham Houston ESPN Sports 13 November 2007

Why noble art is back on map

Stuart Brennan Manchester Evening News 7 November 2007

Giving those Oxbridge toffs an education in the noble art

Jim White Telegraph 3 February 2007

Boys that box

Lauren Aaronson Psychology Today 1 November 2005

Battered women: female boxing is brutal and hopeless

Benjamin Wallace-Wells The Free Library 1 March 2005

Noble art still plagued by Tyson

Robert Phillip Telegraph 1 February 2002

Sport Medicine and the ethics of boxing

Suzanne Leclerc and Christopher D Herrera Western Journal of Medicine June 2000

The noble art of not getting thumped

Mark Steel Independent 11 December 1998

Schools: Boxing

House of Lords


Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.


Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.


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