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Boxing Injuries: Who is Responsible For Duty of Care?

Boxing’s governing body is to investigate why fighter Nick Blackwell needed emergency brain surgery following a sparring session – just months after suffering a severe head injury in a brutal bout with Chris Eubank Jr.

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The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) will hold a hearing in January to examine events leading to the former British middleweight champion requiring a second life-saving operation, this time after an unsanctioned sparring session on 22 November.

Blackwell retired earlier in 2016 after spending a week in an induced coma following a defeat by Chris Eubank Jr. in March. Shortly after the fight, Blackwell collapsed, having suffered a bleed on the skull and fortunately woke without requiring an operation.

In the latest serious health scare, the 26-year-old had to have part of his skull removed to reduce brain swelling following the training fight. The BBC has reported that his recovery time and prognosis remain unclear.


Duty of Care in Sport

All athletes are protected by a duty of care by the responsible sports body. This means that they should be able to participate in a sport under the knowledge that all measures have been taken to ensure health and safety risks are minimised.

There are basic standards that should be expected in any official sporting event: safety checks and the maintenance of equipment, a referee to ensure that rules are followed in sports involving physical contact and first aid should be at hand for the event relative to the kind of injuries that could potentially happen in the sport.

This duty of care applies to coaches and trainers, placing upon them a legal and moral responsibility to see that inherent risks do not befall an athlete in training or in the ring.

In any sport, the body responsible for the sporting activity – be it the Olympics, World Cup or boxing championship – are required by law to take measures to ensure hazards related to activities, substances and situations are minimised.

This duty of care applies to coaches and trainers, placing upon them a legal and moral responsibility to see that inherent risks do not befall an athlete in training or in the ring.

One would expect that boxing coaches have a firm understanding of the responsibility for the athletes they train. Given the potential head injuries that may be sustained in any contact – let alone combat sport, boxing coaches, trainers and all under employ at a boxing gym or organisation should be aware of their responsibilities to ensure boxers and people in training are protected and as safe as possible.

In boxing this would, at a minimum, see that well-maintained protective equipment is worn by participants when sparring, competing and exercises within the gym. Boxing gloves are worn to protect a wearer’s hands as well as an opponent or sparring partner. Helmets are essential for training exercises. All equipment, if provided by the gym, should be maintained and regularly checked by employees prior to use, and coaches ought to check any equipment worn by participants even if it doesn’t belong to the club.

Further to this, before stepping in a ring or any kind of sparring situation, a participant must be made aware of any risk, and have received training on how to avoid injury and protect themselves.

The rules of UK boxing, as in any sport, are in place to ensure participant safety along with fairness in the sport. 

A responsible coach would not have allowed Nick Blackwell to spar or put in any situation where such further damage may have been done during training. Should the British Boxing Board of Control’s inquiries discover a trainer or member of a sporting body sanctioned this sparring session, the individual may well be found responsible for Blackwell’s injuries.


Tracey Benson is a senior associate, specialising in sports injury claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have many years of experience in helping athletes and sportspeople claim compensation for injuries sustained as a result of dangerous or negligent play. Most of our claims are dealt with on a no win no fee basis.

For a free consultation, call our sports injury solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you.


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