Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Want to destroy boxing? Create a federal commission

By JE Grant

For more than 40 years there have been those in and around the boxing world who have called for the creation of a federal (U.S.) commission to oversee the sport. Boxing, being the only sport in the United States that is governed at any level by government bodies, by the account of some is not governed enough.

Currently, boxing is governed primarily by states. For the folks who want a federal commission this isn’t enough. The primary driver today appears to be the growth in the number of sanctioning bodies and a general sense that promoters and managers are pulling the sport down with unscrupulous tactics.

Even with state-by-state control, the federal government has seen fit to establish the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. Right upfront, the act jabs at the sanctioning bodies:

It says that, “professional boxing differs from other major, interstate professional sports industries in the United States in that it operates without any private sector association, league, or centralized industry organization to establish uniform and appropriate business practices and ethical standards.”

The law goes on to forbid certain binding contractual relationships, makes the sanctioning bodies provide public information about fees, and requires promoters to provide state commissions with data, among its provisions.

Of course all of that sounds reasonable on its face. Sanctioning bodies are the subject of much derision and the quality and enforcement of some state commissions is not what some think it should be.

Although there has been some adherence to the law, there isn’t much in the way of enforcement from the federal level, hence the continued call for the creation of a commission.

So why not have a commission you say? Wouldn’t it clean up the bad promoters and scheming managers, not to mention forcing out aging? Wouldn’t we have fair and competent rating system that ensured only the top challengers vied for the title “champion”?

Let me be the first to burst the glowing bubble that surrounds this issue. A federal boxing commission is a patently bad idea.

First, boxing is an international sport with a strong fan-base in places such as England, Australia, Germany, Thailand and the list goes on. We should not assume that everyone in the world wants the control of their sport, one in which many people make their living, to rest in an office building in Washington D.C.

Secondly, there is no success model on which to base the federal government running a commercial venture. From time-to-time the government has taken over businesses, usually attempting to collect back tax revenue after the owners are arrested. Running a professional sport with as many variables that, that includes such as market share, boxer development, and state interests, would prove difficult at best. It is more than unlikely that a governmental institution could do so.

Third, who would make up the membership of the commission? Don’t fool yourself; no administration would view a federal boxing commission as its top priority. No up and coming politician would see membership on the commission as a means toward advancement. There is no indication at all that the bureaucracy that would surely develop would prove guided by an interest in improving the sport. I would also suggest that many in the bureaucracy would have little appreciation or understanding of the sport, what constitutes fair competition, or who is truly qualified to be a champion. Such a commission would, like most bureaucracies, seek to continue its existence as its primary focus and commissioners would see membership as a consolation prize.

Fourth, boxing is an entrepreneurial business – no one knows what the effect will be on promotion. We all know that boxers risk much each time out, but so do promoters. Promoters build a new product, fund it, publicize it, and take a significant monetary chance on every card. Unlike in team sports with regular schedules, sweetheart deals with cities for arenas and stadiums, the boxing promoter bares his wallet and reputation repeatedly. High profile promoters such as Don King and Bob Arum are constantly seen as the source of evil --- perhaps, but they make the sport go. Bureaucracies, laden with massive rules and directives have a proven history of squashing entrepreneurs. Boxing without promoters equals no boxing at all.

Of course the safety of boxers is the risk assumed by entering a ring to hit an opponent to the head and shoulders. While that part of the risk won’t disappear, I suggest that many of the states have safety records that do not require further oversight. With the numerous cards in states such as Nevada and New Jersey, solid state commissioners have proven themselves as concerned and able.

Finally – and this is aimed primarily at American readers – the United States government is supposed to be guided by the Constitution. There is no place in the document that even hints that a good and proper role of federal government includes overseeing sports. Politicians at all levels are keenly aware that collecting more power fuels the source of their power. I have no doubt that there is some support for creating a federal commission. We, who want boxing to continue, should ask that the feds keep their noses out it.

Who wants some day to see at a Senate hearing a group of senators quibbling on the floor about whether Hasim Rahman or Wladimir Klitschko should be the number one contender? Or more dramatically, what about a congressman from any district who wants one of his constituents to be pushed forward in the ratings, and threatens hearings if he’s not satisfied?

So many unintended consequences. So many opportunities to truly ruin the sport.

For more insights visit JE’s website at or email him at


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12:07 PM  

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