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UPCOMING OLYMPIC GAMES

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Less than a fortnight ago the world of sport waited with baited breath and crossed fingers as Britain’s Olympic cycling heroine Victoria Pendleton swapped saddles to negotiate Cheltenham racecourse on horseback without falling off, breaking a limb - or worse.

Then last week we winced in horror at the TV pictures from a crash in the Australian Grand Prix and marvelled when the motor racing drivers Fernando Alonso and Estaban Gutierrez walked away thankfully unscathed. Both could have been badly injured – or worse.

Not every conclusion is so fortuitous. Yesterday insidethegames reported how a 25-year-old Belgian cyclist, Antoine Demoitié, had tragically died following a pile-up during the Gent-Wevelgem one-day classic.

Four other riders were also involved in the crash, as the Belgian race briefly entered northern France.

While on the ground, Demoitié was reportedly struck by a race motorbike. It made little more than a paragraph in papers this side of the water.

I was reflecting on this amid the predictable furore that has escalated following Saturday night’s British middleweight title fight which has left the defending champion Nick Blackwell hospitalised in an induced coma following his lopsided defeat by Chris Eubank Jr.

Inevitably the abolitionists are back aboard the bandwagon, as happens whenever a boxer suffers serious injury.

But pray tell me, in which major sport is a competitor not at some sort of risk these days?

It was only in November 2014 that Australian Test cricket star Philip Hughes died after being struck on the back of the neck by a delivery during a domestic match in Sydney.

It is unfortunate that boxing finds itself in another perilous situation but, as we have said before, by its very nature this is a high-risk business. As with life itself, so much of sport is these days - not just the fight game.

Sport is a metaphor for life, and always has been.

We risk our lives every time we step outside our front door, especially in these grim times of terrorist atrocities.

So it is with sport. You may get hurt - and quite often do. But it is a risk you happily take.

Boxers, like jump jockeys, motor racing drivers, skeleton racers and mountaineers, are surely as much entitled to freedom of choice as the rest of us.

That risk is always there, whatever the sport, and some may argue rightly that it is more acute in boxing than most others. But statistics continue to show that boxing - notably in this country, where the safeguards are so much improved - is by no means the most dangerous activity of all.

Tragic incidents happen in boxing as they do in many other sports, not least equestrianism and rugby, the latter currently undergoing much scrutiny because of the increasing incidence of concussion.

There has even been a suggestion that the very rudiment of the game, tackling, should be banned for kids. How daft is that?

I have always been of the old school which believes that boxing does more good than harm, not least as an antidote to waywardness among young people.

By and large boxers themselves always seem to emerge a different breed, defined by their courage, dignity and discipline.

Thank goodness the portents are good as far as Blackwell is concerned. He is a tough kid and unquestionably a brave one. The fact that Eubank’s father Chris Sr had been involved in a similar situation himself 25 years ago, with Michael Watson, provided a disquieting moment of déjà vu. But on the night of that fight there were a number of cock-ups out of which came regulations that are now in place and which may well have saved Blackwell’s life.

Investing in the presence of ambulances, paramedics and an anesthetist has proved both essential and wise.

What is important now is that the thoughts of everyone in the game are with Blackwell and his family, and that he is given all due care and attention and makes a speedy recovery.

I see that Eubank Sr is now being hailed as something of a saviour in view of his overheard corner instructions to his son, to stop going for the head and instead concentrate on the body.

Personally I am not sure whether he really was being altruistic or this simply was a tactical move, believing that the tiring Blackwell was more likely to be worn down by body shots than head punches in the latter stages of the fight.

Eubank also said he believed the fight should have been stopped sooner, but I do have some sympathy with Victor Loughlin, who is a decent referee and was always close to the action.

Blackwell was certainly shipping a lot of punishment, but he kept coming forward and was always firing back. In the end it needed a doctor’s intervention as Blackwell’s vision obviously was impaired by an horrendous eye injury, and the referee acted promptly upon it.

Apart from anything else, watching Blackwell being stretchered from the ring after collapsing following the stoppage and subsequently being placed in an induced coma with a small bleed on the brain, surely should have convinced Eubank Sr that any talk of him and former foe Nigel Benn fighting again is not only nonsensical but downright dangerous. It is too stupid to even think about.

Hopefully any such foolhardy prospect of a scrap between these two soppy senior citizens (Chris is 48 and Benn 52) will now go out of the window. It is one risk boxing can do without.

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