Education And Debate

Could boxing be banned? A legal and epidemiological perspective

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 13 June 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1813
  1. Hugh Brayne (, professora,
  2. Lincoln Sargeant, postgraduate studentb,
  3. Carol Brayne, lecturerb
  1. aSunderland Business School, University of Sunderland, Sunderland SR6 0DD,
  2. bDepartment of Community Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 2SR
  1. Correspondence to: Professor Brayne
  • Accepted 27 February 1998

For some time the BMA has campaigned for stricter legal regulation of boxing.1 Although two bills in the House of Lords to outlaw boxing for reward were defeated in 1995, parliament has never declared boxing illegal and no court has ever decided a case involving the legality of boxing. We reviewed the case law and the scientific evidence to determine whether boxing could and should be banned.

Summary points

Scientific evidence shows that boxing—professional and amateur—endangers health

Courts have never been asked to consider scientific evidence against boxing, as no case before them has involved boxing

Two possible test cases could be considered in the event of a fight involving serious injury or death—a claim for compensation against the promoter or referee and a criminal prosecution presenting known scientific evidence

Even without legislation the law can place limitations on the sport

Since medical cover is a legal requirement at all boxing promotions, the profession could reconsider, in the light of its own ethical standards, whether members should participate

No court has ever decided a case involving the legality of boxing

Can law change without legislation?

Judges sometimes make new law when their old decisions are overtaken by changes in public opinion or where there is a gap in the law. It was judges, not parliament, who overturned the old rule that a man could not be convicted of raping his wife.2 Sometimes judges accept help from experts when making law: the House of Lords relied on medical opinion on the quality of life of a victim of persistent vegetative syndrome before declaring it lawful to withdraw life sustaining treatment.3

The law and violence in sport

The deliberate or reckless infliction of an injury normally has two legal consequences: the aggressor has committed a criminal offence and the victim can sue for compensation. We say “normally” because the law has always …

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