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The head-wrecking dilemma of contact sports

However, professional sport is not beyond putting its athletes in serious danger, as was evidenced once again recently when Chris Eubank Jr and Nick Blackwell stepped into the boxing ring to contest the British Middleweight crown.

Blackwell was so clearly taking a serious beating that anybody with even a cursory knowledge of sports medicine could see that it was not going to end well. Incredibly, the referee allowed Blackwell to have the bejeezes beaten out of him for 10 rounds before finally calling a halt to the bout. It even reached the point where, in the later rounds, Chris Eubank Snr told his son not to aim for Blackwell’s head. He could see the writing on the wall.

Not long after the fight ended, Blackwell collapsed and was placed in an induced coma. His boxing career is over but he is alive — at time of going to print, the likeable young pugilist had regained consciousness briefly, although hospital reports suggest his sight may have been affected.

It must have been an eerie and disturbing scenario for Eubank Snr — some 25 years ago, he put Michael Watson in a 40-day coma. It required six surgical procedures to save Watson’s life and years for him to even partially recover his faculties.

One would think that was a wake-up call for the sport — reforms such as bringing forward of weigh-ins to the day before fights help to prevent brain dehydration. But the fall-out meant that the British Boxing Board of Control was almost bankrupted by the compensation paid to Watson due to its poor medical standards. The Board was even forced to sell its premises.

In rugby or American football, the dangers are more subtle. Aside from the obvious risk of heavy-impact head injuries, there has thankfully been increasing awareness of repetitive head injury syndrome, which describes the cumulative effects of repeated, lighter blows to the head, and second-injury syndrome, where athletes are thrown back into their sport before their brain has fully recovered from the first insult.

Both of these syndromes can be insidious, as they often occur without any loss of consciousness. But while doctors and coaches at professional level are educating themselves on these matters, is this trickling down to coaches at amateur level?

Recently, in an open letter, 70 doctors and health experts called on the governments in Ireland and Britain to pretty much ban tackling in school rugby. Prof Allyson Pollock of Queen Mary University, London — who addressed the IMO AGM on a separate topic — said: “Rugby is a high-impact collision sport and given that children are more susceptible to injuries such as concussion, the absence of injury surveillance systems and primary prevention strategies is worrying. Children are being left exposed to serious and catastrophic risk of injury.”

Even in the professional sector, the Blackwell v Eubank fight shows that despite the evolution in safety awareness in boxing, the final and potentially life-or-death decision often comes down to one person, one arbitrary decision.

Accidents can happen anywhere, but as someone who likes to play the percentages, it was hard to stifle a smile when the young fella told me he was quitting schools rugby.

Fundamentally strapped for cash

The scourge of ISIS, Islamic State, Daesh, and whatever you’re having yourself — how to defeat this insipid threat, which intertwines itself silently in society?

Reports are emerging that suggest the answer is more simple and obvious than we might have thought. Where bombs, bullets and ‘boots on the ground’ have so far been limited in their impact, it seems the way to hit them where it hurts is to target their pockets.

Welcome to the world of doctors, ISIS — news reports are telling us that a US-led coalition has been hammering the group’s oil facilities and financial bases. This has reportedly led to major salary cuts, in-fighting among the foot-soldiers and hierarchy alike and some ISIS members are even working for free, and are far from happy about it.

“These are all indications of a significant drop in morale and a decrease in internal cohesion. And the cohesion argument was always something that analysts like myself always said was one of ISIS’s strongest strengths,” observed Charles Lister, a resident Fellow at the Middle East Institute.

Abu Sara, a 33-year-old engineer from Iraq, told the Washington Post: “Their members are getting quite angry. Either they are not getting salaries or getting much less than they used to earn. All of the people I am in contact with want to escape, but they don’t know how.” Perhaps that’s where the medical parallel ends — Irish doctors have a pretty good idea how to ‘escape’.

Maybe the organisation needs an IMO equivalent to call a halt to employee exploitation and threaten strike action because of unpaid overtime.

It seems that even radical, brutal murderous ideology has a price!

In small packages

Farewell Ronnie Corbett, a small man with a huge comedy legacy. I’ll leave you with quick gag of his for those of us who grew up laughing at his jokes in more innocent times.

“There was a fire at the main Inland Revenue office in London today, but it was put out before any serious good was done.”

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