Norway fights for professional boxing

Medical professionals oppose the government and boxing associations about the sport

Photo: beatebodenhagen / Wikimedia Commons  Cecilia Brækhus after winning over Jill Emery at the Herning Kongrescenter, Herning, Denmark on April 2, 2011. She and other Norwegian boxers would welcome the chance to train and compete in their home country.

Photo: beatebodenhagen / Wikimedia Commons
Cecilia Brækhus after winning over Jill Emery at the Herning Kongrescenter, Herning, Denmark on April 2, 2011. She and other Norwegian boxers would welcome the chance to train and compete in their home country.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

If all goes according to the government’s plan, the New Year will bring the return of professional boxing to Norway. The sport has been illegal in Norway since 1981 when the so-called knock-out law was passed.

The ultimate goal is to legalize professional boxing and change the current laws so that International Boxing Association (AIBA) rules can be implemented. After 33 years, the Norwegian government is eager to amend this law and allow Norwegian boxers, such as Cecilia Brækhus, to compete in their home country once again.

“We will remove the prohibitions, orders, and regulations that are not in accordance with how people think they should be. We will simplify and move the decisions closer to the people. They will be lifted as soon as possible. This means that Cecilia Brækhus will now have the opportunity to practice her sport in her own homeland,” declared the leader of the Progress Party, Siv Jensen.

The government sent the proposition to Parliament in October. Although there is wide support for the proposition among the various political parties, there are many who oppose the idea outside of the government.

The Family and Culture Committee of the Parliament held a hearing on Tuesday, November 18, allowing representatives from both boxing and medical associations to voice their opinions on the legalization of professional boxing. The hearing featured six organizations and much disagreement among them.

Norsk forening for idrettsmedisin og fysisk aktivitet (Norwegian Association for Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy), Norsk nevrokirurgisk forening (Norwegian Neurosurgical Association), Den norske legeforening (The Norwegian Medical Association), and Norges idrettsforbund (Norwegian Confederation of Sports) spoke first, all demonstrating opposition of the proposition.

“We ask the committee to note two main points: The aim of boxing is to inflict head injuries on the opponent. We feel that this contradicts the purpose of sports. The other main point is that the health damage caused by professional boxing is well documented,” argued Jon Helle from the Norwegian Medical Association.

The medical concerns were followed up by the remarks of Norges Bokseforbund (Norwegian Boxing Association) and Norges Profesjonelle Bokseforbund (Norwegian Professional Boxing Association).

“Last time I was here at a hearing, there were four countries that banned professional boxing. Now our friend Fidel Castro in Cuba lifted the ban on professional boxing. So now it’s just the threesome Norway, North Korea, and Iran left,” declared Norwegian Boxing Association representative Frank Robert Walstad.

Even though the hearing presented a majority of oppositional voices and many medical objections, most believe the government will continue to pursue the legalization of professional boxing.

According to an NRK article from Nov. 18, “The medical experts are of the opinion that it is very risky to allow professional boxing, and they believe that it is impossible from a health and safety perspective. But it seems that the politicians have decided, and that it does not matter what either the physicians or sports organizations think. Cecilia Brækhus is most likely to be allowed to fight in Norway.”

Naturally, Norwegian boxers are hopeful that they will soon be able to live, train, and compete in Norway. Brækhus expresses her strong opinion on the current laws, telling VG: “What is certain is that I am not a criminal—I am a good person. I want to come home to Norway, and I do not deserve to be seen as a criminal because it happened to be boxing I fell in love with.”

She is disappointed that Norges idrettsforbund is not supporting the proposition and worries that the current laws could lead to the extinction of the sport in Norway altogether.

“There are perhaps many young people who do not have the opportunity to travel to the European Championships, World Championships, or Olympic Games. If they do not, I think it is a tragedy. We are talking about an Olympic sport,” she notes.

And even though amateur boxing is technically legal in Norway, the knock-out law resulted in Norway’s suspension from the AIBA earlier this year. This occurred after AIBA decided to ban helmets from senior male boxing. But the Norwegian knock-out law required helmets, and Norway was suspended in March.
As a result, the government amended the law to allow the senior class of amateur male boxers to fight without helmets for the first time since 1981, and the AIBA suspension was lifted in October.

While Norway’s boxers applaud this movement, those focused on athletes’ health disapprove.

“We are certainly not happy with the changes made in the knockout regulations when it comes to health,” says Idrettsforbundet board member, Oddvar Jensen. He believes that the government is not fully understanding of the medical consequences.

But the government is hoping to act quickly regardless. Family and Cultural Affairs spokeswoman Rigmor Aasrud has announced that the first hearing of the case in Parliament will likely occur just before Christmas with a final decision sometime after the New Year.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 28, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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