Shocking claims about concussion, weight loss and a lack of regulation have been heard at a public forum in New South Wales as part of a statewide review of combat sports.
Amateur and professional fighters across all codes are under the spotlight amid scrutiny of the Combat Sports Act 2013 following a boxing death in 2015.
Calls for better regulations to ensure an even playing field and to prevent concussions were heard at the Combat Sports Authority’s (CSA) Wollongong forum earlier this week.
“Boxers get knocked out and then feel dazed after heavy sparring in training two, three times a week and then drive themselves home,” a 37-year-old female kickboxer from Wollongong, who has chosen not to be identified, said.
“I have seen fights where someone has been lying on the floor smashed and a doctor hasn’t stepped in.”
The issue of athletes pushing their bodies to the extreme was also flagged, with the practice common even among amateurs.
For many that includes same-day weigh-ins where fighters would be “suffering exhaustion and dehydration, and so would not fight at their best and make mistakes which is when bad injuries happen,” according to the experienced fighter.
“Competitors know they have to lose between five and nine kilograms in a week to make weigh-ins and do so by extreme fasting and cardio,” she said.
Dynamite Davey’s tragic death
Amy Lavelle, the wife of professional boxer Davey Brown who died from head injuries following a fight in 2015, lies in a Sydney hospital bed with him in the days after the fight. (Facebook: Amy Lavelle Browne)
It was the death of professional fighter David Browne Junior on September 15, 2015 that sparked the review of the Combat Sports Act.
The 28-year-old professional boxer died in hospital from bleeding on the brain after his life support was turned off.
Browne, known as Dynamite Davey, was struck in the head during a bout for the International Boxing Federation Pan Pacific Super Featherweight title at Ingleburn RSL.
An inquest into his death last June found Browne’s death should have been prevented as he showed clear signs of concussion at the end of the 11th round.
Professional boxer David Browne Junior died after being knocked unconscious during a super featherweight title fight in Sydney. (facebook: Aus-Boxing)
The coroner found the referee failed to recognise the seriousness of the boxer’s condition and recommended new rules to allow ringside doctors to stop a fight at any time to inspect a boxer’s condition.
Under the current rules the round must be stopped by a referee to allow a medical examination to occur.
Concussions treated as the norm
Part of the review involves looking at concussion treatment and prevention.
“The very nature of combat sports is to cause concussion,” CSA board member Darren Cain said.
“Particularly in sports like boxing, more needs to be learnt about concussion and the later effects.”
The role of doctors and their ability to intervene was also discussed, amid concerns mid-match medical examinations could hurt the sport.
“It’s very different from something like Rugby League where you can do a 15-minute test to see if they’re concussed or not,” Mr Cain said.
“How can medical professionals administer tests in a short period of time without changing the fabric of the sport?”
The CSA says there is a duty of care to deal with concussions, as is the case in other sporting codes.
“Recognising that combat sports are inherently dangerous, there is an obligation on the authority to ensure the right safeguards are put in place,” Peter McHugh, Director of Sports Development and Support at the CSA, said.
Regulation and accountability
Paul Traish fighting in a cage in a mixed martial arts contest. (Supplied: Andrew Nguyen Photography)
The CSA says there are 72 classes of combat sports and martial arts — including aikido, fencing, jousting, karate, paintball, wrestling, and dozens more — yet they are all regulated independently.
Differing rules for each class of fight or tournament can be extremely confusing and combatants don’t have to declare their fighting experience in some codes.
One fighter told the forum some amateur competitors lied about their international experience to get an advantage in fights.
“One boxer went to Thailand for 12 months of fighting in competitions and then came back to fight in amateur flights, against people in the ring for the first time,” said the female kickboxer.
“If you’re going into a karate fight, you don’t have to disclose that you are an experienced kickboxer — and vice versa across all different codes.”
The CSA acknowledges the disjointed system needs to be overhauled.
“Combat sports are structured in a fragmented way, with so many governing bodies making it difficult for the authority to oversee and regulate,” Mr Cain said.
“Some states are not regulated at all, some states are regulated to far less an extent than NSW.
“We also have additional issues of fighters coming in from overseas, and you might not know enough about their history and record of fighting.”
Need for change
The review of the Combat Sports Act 2013 will consider:
- Coronial recommendations from David Browne’s death
- Which sports should be regulated
- Whether registration should be improved and whether regulation is likely to cause an unnecessary burden
- If medical care before, during, and after combat contests should be improved
The Combat Sports Act 2013 is being reviewed across NSW, with public forums in Wollongong, Dubbo, Parramatta and Newcastle. (By Chloe Hart)
“The health and safety of combatants is something we clearly need to pursue and in particular concussion and awareness and training, clearly training of combatants, industry and officials,” said Peter McHugh.
Potential measures to improve welfare include holding weigh-ins up to 48 hours before a match, mandatory concussion assessments, and players declaring their entire combat sports history.
The CSA says its primary objective is to maintain the integrity of the sports and acknowledges there might be resistance to change.
“We are going to have to do some work on the culture of combat sports and concussion,” Mr Cain said.
“Any change is going to be challenging, but we’ve certainly seen in how changes have been introduced in other sports.”
Public forums are also being held at Newcastle, Dubbo and Parramatta this week, and submissions can also be made online.
The NSW review follows a similar probe carried out in Queensland last year.