Why is boxing still not banned?

Why is boxing still not banned?

Dr. Trevor Hancock

20 May 2019

702 words

Well at least WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder is honest – brutally honest, in fact. In an interview on TSN on May 15th he states “This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time . . . It’s legal”. If he had stopped there, that would have been bad enough, but he went on to say “I am still trying to get me a body on my record”, which clearly takes him from being a candid observer of and participant in a brutal activity to being a man hoping to commit murder.

According to a list available on Wikipedia there have been 21 deaths in the 21st century (up to 5th November 2018), including 2 Canadians, both in Canada in 2017. In fact, there are more deaths than the list shows; in researching this column I came across two deaths in Australia in 2015 that were not included, so there may be more.

On top of that are the deaths from the newly emerged and equally nasty mixed martial arts (MMA). A Wikipedia article states “there have been seven recorded deaths resulting from sanctioned contests and nine from unregulated bouts” between 2001, when MMA was sanctioned in New Jersey and Nevada and April 2019, – so 16 in all. Altogether, then, about 2 deaths a year across boxing and MMA.

But boxing also causes significant brain injuries that do not result in death. According to a website about health research funding maintained by the National Health Council in the USA, 90 percent of boxers will experience at least one brain injury during their career, 15-40 percent of ex-boxers at any given time have been found to have symptoms of chronic brain injury, 17 percent of retired professional boxers exhibit chronic traumatic brain injury symptoms and up to 20 percent of professional boxers develop neuropsychiatric symptoms.

Additionally, a study by researchers at the University of Toronto published in 2014 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found about one third of MMA bouts led to “match-ending head trauma”.

We need to remember that unlike sporting or other activities in which people are injured or killed unintentionally, boxing’s “basic intent is to produce bodily harm by specifically targeting the head”, as the World Medical Association’s 1983 Statement on Boxing puts it. The Statement, re-confirmed in 2005 and 2017, calls for a ban on boxing, a call taken up by many national medical associations, including the Canadian Medical Association, which re-confirmed its opinion in 2001.

We should be clear; boxing and MMA are actually aggravated assault, and can on occasion become manslaughter. So why do we allow this brutal activity – I won‘t call it a sport, it is no more a sport than were the Roman gladiators – to continue?

First, let’s not blame the victims. As Simon Barnes, chief sports writer at the Times, put it in the Spectator in April 2016, “across history, boxers have been expendable. It’s always been easy to sell the spectacle of two fine athletes inflicting potentially lethal damage on each other. It’s the people who pay and the people who profit who must carry the responsibility for what happens to boxers.”

Troublingly, there is a very disturbed bunch of people out there who glorify violence and take pleasure in watching two people try to beat each other unconscious, with perhaps the added thrill of seeing one of them batter the other to death. They are no better than the Roman mob baying for blood in the arenas.

Equally troubling are the media companies that broadcast this disgusting spectacle, and the companies that sponsor it either directly or by buying advertising. But appeals to stop this sickening activity have fallen on deaf ears for years. Perhaps it is time to try a couple of new approaches.

First, we should insist that our legislatures pass laws to make it clear that there are no exceptions to the rule of law – aggravated assault is aggravated assault, while intending to ‘get me a body’ is intention to commit murder. Second, we should learn from other campaigns against companies that behave badly and institute a boycott of all companies that support boxing and MMA.

© Trevor Hancock, 2019



Why don’t governments care about public health?

Why don’t governments care about public health?

Dr. Trevor Hancock

14 May 2019

697 words

Once upon a time there was a small town at the base of a set of cliffs. People visited the cliffs to enjoy the view, but the cliffs were dangerous and from time to time people would fall from them. This became such a big problem that the town decided to build a trauma centre to treat the victims. But they were all so busy looking after the victims, and it was so expensive, they never had enough time or money to build a fence at the top of the cliffs to stop people falling.

Sadly, this parable reflects the state of thinking about public health in governments across Canada. The most recent and egregious example is Ontario, where the Doug Ford government has announced in the same breath a $200 million annual cut to public health budgets and a $2.7 billion annual increase in hospital spending. In effect, they are demolishing the fence while growing the trauma centre.

But Premier Ford is not alone in his short-sighted and narrow view of public health. He is just the latest of a string of political leaders who have taken an axe to public health in the last few years. In 2015, for example, Quebec instituted a one third cut to regional public health services resulting in a $24 million reduction in budget and a loss of public health expertise, while in 2017 New Brunswick dismembered the Office of the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), having previously fired its PHO without cause.

This Canada-wide phenomenon is a triumph of short-term thinking – there are votes to be had in increasing health care spending – over long-term investment in prevention, creating long-term pain for short-term gain. Investing in public health – and in a range of upstream social, environmental and economic improvements – would reduce not only costs but, more importantly, premature deaths and much unnecessary pain and suffering.

So why don’t governments care about or choose to invest in public health? There are several factors at play, one of which may be that public health does not generate headlines, whereas dramatic life-saving interventions do. When public health is effective, nothing happens; nobody writes headlines about the hundreds of cancers that did not happen, only about the latest hi-tech drug or intervention that reduced the death rate from cancer.

Then there is the fact that public health is not simply about biomedical interventions at the individual level, but about the environmental, social and economic conditions that shape people’s health. This leads some politicians, especially those more wedded to an individualistic and neo-liberal ideology, to criticize public health for not ‘staying in its lane’ – that lane, often being seen as concerned only with infectious disease control. But the reality is that while infectious diseases remain a public concern the major killers are chronic diseases, many of which are caused at least to some extent by large industries, and can be worsened by public policies.

That may be another factor in the political disdain for public health, because in doing its job of preventing disease, injury and premature deaths, public health finds itself opposing some of the country’s major corporations – the tobacco, alcohol, fast food, fossil fuel and other industries that are also important political party funders and supporters.

Public health doesn’t just oppose industries that make money by harming health, it also critiques public policies that harm health, which doubtless irritates governments too. Yet we know that poverty, hunger, homelessness and a range of other social conditions worsen health and that public policy can either improve or worsen the health of the public, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

More recently, given the growing recognition of the potentially massive health impacts of climate change, public health has been active in opposing the expansion of the fossil fuel industry and has intervened in support of the federal carbon tax in provincial lawsuits opposing it.

But governments need to understand both the role of public health in society and the public good that can flow from an effective and well-funded public health sector. Funding the expansion of health care while cutting public health is a triumph of ideology over common sense and the public interest.

© Trevor Hancock, 2019


Move from denial to protest to building better mousetraps

Move from denial to protest to building better mousetraps

Dr. Trevor Hancock

29 April 2019

702 words

“Stop denying our Earth is dying” read a poster held by a young woman taking part in a protest by the Extinction Rebellion group outside the BBC headquarters in London recently. Young people can see what is coming, and they are becoming mad as hell and are not going to take it any more! Greta Thunberg, the remarkable young Swedish woman who routinely talks sense to the world’s leaders, has ignited a series of protests over climate change by young people all over the world.

Here in Victoria we have not only seen high school, college and university students organizing ‘climate strikes’, but Extinction Rebellion taking to the streets to protest against the banks that invest in industries that harm the Earth and undermine the future for young people.

Young people are right to be mad as hell because while the planet as a whole is not literally dying, significant parts of the biosphere are. We are losing coral reefs, forests, insects and many species of vertebrates at an alarming rate. In fact we have triggered a sixth, human-induced ‘Great Extinction’ of species and we are changing key natural Earth systems – our life support systems – in ways that threaten the wellbeing of myriad species, including ourselves.

But while the evidence is clear – and increasing on an almost daily basis – much of our political and corporate leadership in BC, Canada and around the world is in denial. It was to them that this young woman’s appeal was directed. Troublingly, significant segments of the electorate are also in denial, and are being whipped up by ‘the Resistance’; Conservative leaders in Canada and around the world and their fossil fuel and other corporate allies who do very well out of the present arrangements and don’t want to see the system changed.

Unlike the older generation that currently make decisions affecting the future, young people have a real stake in that future; after all, they will be there, whereas my generation will not. In fact, arguably, they – not the generation now in power – should be making decisions that will have an impact on their future; they should certainly be fully, meaningfully and consistently engaged in making those decisions.

But young people can see, I think, that what we face – climate change and more – changes everything, as Naomi Klein’s book title noted a few years ago. And if everything has to change – our values, the economy, our social arrangements, our whole way of life – then there are not only great challenges ahead, but great opportunities.

So they are not only protesting, they are taking action. One obvious way is in what they eat; there is a growing shift towards a more vegetarian and even vegan diet. Then there is the sharing economy, with not only cars but much else being shared. A couple of months ago I spoke at a forum on co-living organized by the Firelight Initiative, a group of young women interested in exploring alternative, healthier and more sustainable ways of living.

These days, when I talk to audiences about the global ecological crisis and its health impacts, I make a point of also talking about the exciting opportunities I see ahead, especially for young people. When everything has to change, we are going to need not just scientific and technological inventors and innovators, but social, cultural and economic inventors and innovators.

While we are still going to need activists who can take it to the streets and keep the movement alive, we need spiritual leaders and philosophers who can help reset our moral compasses and artists who can get the message out in ways that transform our culture. And we need the new breed of green and social entrepreneurs who will re-make the economy, doing well while doing good.

Perhaps the most effective way to counter denial is simply to show that there is an alternative, it works and it’s better than what we have now; build a better mousetrap, in other words. In the years ahead, we need to encourage and support young people in re-inventing our communities and societies, and in building that better mousetrap, be it for healthy and sustainable food, housing, transportation or other goods and services.

© Trevor Hancock, 2019





Time to think beyond the next election

Time to think beyond the next election

Dr. Trevor Hancock

24 April 2019

701 words

The BBC has started a project called BBC Future “which aims to stand back from the daily news cycle . . . (and) explore what really matters in the broader arc of human history and what it means for our descendants”. The first article is by the managing editor, Richard Fisher. Prompted by the realisation that his daughter, born in 2013, could well be alive in 2100, he explores the challenge posed by our short-term thinking, suggesting that ‘short-termism’ is “civilisation’s greatest threat”

Such thinking is problematic when we face what may be described as a long, slow crisis. While the massive human-induced global ecological changes we face – climate change, resource depletion, ocean acidification, pollution and species extinction – are occurring rapidly in geological and ecological terms, they are slow in human terms.

Which is presumably what led Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, to state recently that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out”. On that basis – and no doubt influenced by his background as a coal industry lobbyist (talk about the fox guarding the hen coop) – he suggested we should focus on the issues currently killing people, such as a lack of safe, clean water supply.

Well, at least he got it half correct. Yes, of course we should address the drinking water problem, but there is no reason why we cannot address the issue of climate change as well, we are capable of doing more than one thing at once. Because while the threats from climate change, which at least he acknowledges, may lie far in the future (and even that is not true, effects are being felt today around the world), their cause is in our actions today.

Carbon emissions today will continue to affect the climate for many decades, even centuries into the future. We have already locked in climate change and its health and societal impacts for our children and grandchildren; failing to act now makes it worse for them and extends the impacts into additional generations. So shrugging your shoulders and saying, in effect, ‘not our problem, they will need to deal with it then’, is both scientifically ignorant and ethically unacceptable.

Which brings me to our current crop of political leaders, and particularly what McLean’s dubbed ‘The Resistance’ in their November 2018 cover story. These are national Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer and the conservative premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, who are opposed to the federal carbon tax, are fighting it in court and have not imposed or have repealed a carbon tax in their provinces.

What part of ‘carbon taxes work to reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions’ do they not get? Why are they fighting against one of the most effective tools we have to reduce global warming, one that if done properly is revenue neutral and socially just. It’s easy and cheap to oppose taxes , but that in itself is a foolish short-term approach, because as US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted a century ago, “taxes are the price we pay for a civilised society”.

More importantly, why are they not thinking beyond the next election and considering the future for our children and grandchildren on a rapidly heating planet? Good leaders – those with honour, ethics and a will to serve rather than a will to power – do not encourage and support the electorate in pursuing short-term benefits that constitute long-term folly, nor do they pursue policies that create short-term gain for long-term pain.

What ‘the Resistance’ is really resisting is evidence, common sense, their duty to future generations and an acceptance of responsibility for their wellbeing and that of the Earth itself. Far from being the resistance, they are the obstructors, or perhaps the ecological radicals, content to radically alter our ecosystems for the sake of making money today, while undermining the wellbeing of future generations.

If they are not prepared to think beyond the election, to be true leaders rather than short-term profiteers, they should get out of the way and let others lead who are prepared to do the hard work of creating a healthier, more just and more sustainable future.

© Trevor Hancock, 2019