Despite being a sport loved by many, including our own principal solicitor, the physical dangers of a contact sport such as boxing are undeniable. Approximately 500 professional boxers have died in the ring or as a consequence of the sport since 1884. CNN estimates that between 1890 and 2011, 1,604 boxers have died as a direct consequence of injuries sustained in the ring.
Whilst boxing isn’t the most fatal sport probability wise, that crown belongs to Base Jumping, boxing is still a dangerous sport. Moreover, if not played by the rules, participation in a combat sport can constitute a breach of the criminal law including but not limited to the offence of assault. This article is intended to discuss the relevant existing legislation that is applicable to boxing. This article also examines why striking another human with potentially severely damaging force that can cause death does not constitute an assault.
Boxing has two kinds of participation:
The earliest evidence of boxing goes back to Egypt, at approximately 3000 BC. Soft leather thongs were used to bind the hands and forearms of the participants for their protection. Thus, it is clear that boxing has been around for quite some time. In its modern form, boxing involves two persons engaged in combat. This combat sport has two distinct forms:
There are multiple outcomes in a boxing match. Namely a participant can win, draw or lose. These outcomes are possible either via knockout or by points determined by a judge or a panel of judges. Understandably the force used in a blow that delivers a knockout can cause actual bodily harm or may even result in death. We will now look at the legislation that criminalizes assault.
Section 61 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) states “Whoever assaults any person, although not occasioning bodily harm, shall be liable to imprisonment for two years”. An assault charge can still be laid even if no violence occurs. It is the actual fear of violence which is the crux of the offence of assault. Therefore, the fear you experience of someone trying to punch you, would constitute an assault. Under this section, boxers can be liable to imprisonment. This is regarding assault that does not occasion actual bodily harm.
Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily harm
Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) states “Whosoever assaults any person, and thereby occasions actual bodily harm, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years”. Unfortunately, boxing matches can result in the participants being severely injured or even dying. This forces us to consider what defences are available.
The Consent Defence
Conduct that might constitute an assault (whether or not actual bodily harm occurs) as defined above may not constitute an assault, if the parties involved have consented to them. Therefore, it may be stated that an assault with consent is no assault at all as stated in the case of R v Bonara (1994) 35 NSWLR 74. So, getting punched in the face is a lawful assault in a boxing match, because the assault complies with the rules of the sport. However, the consent defence may not apply in situations in which the harm inflicted is extremely severe. For example, Mike Tyson biting your ear off would constitute extremely severe and illegal harm.
In the case of Pallante v Stadiums Pty Ltd (No 1)  VR 331, the Court determined that the correct test to show if a contest was illegal was that were the blows inflicted intending to do grievous bodily harm? The Court also stated that “boxing is not an unlawful and criminal activity so long as, whether for reward or not, it is engaged in by a contestant as a boxing sport or contest, not from motive of personal animosity… but predominantly as an exercise of boxing skill and physical condition in accordance with rules and in conditions the object of which is to ensure that the infliction of bodily injury is kept within reasonable bounds”. This is so, as the Court stated “so as to preclude or reduce, so far as is practicable, the risk of either contestant incurring serious bodily injury, and to ensure that victory shall be achieved in accordance with the rules by the person demonstrating the greater skill as a boxer”. We can also look at the NSW statutory requirements of a professional combat sport contest as to why a sport where the purpose is to inflict physical injury upon another human is not illegal.
Professional combat sport contest
Section 5(1) of the Combat Sports Act 2013 (NSW) sets the requirements for a professional combat sport contest. These requirements include:
Therefore, as long as one of these requirements are fulfilled, the requirements for a professional combat sport contest will have been satisfied. Now we have seen the potential criminal liability boxers could face. Now this begs the question, what of the civil (monetary) liability of the person who acts outside of the rules and/or throws an illegal attack or unlawful punch?
Liability of participants
Regarding the liability of a person who inflicts damage upon someone else, for example during boxing, Section 5I of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) states: “A person is not liable in negligence for harm suffered by another person as a result of the materialisation of an inherent risk”. The section defines an inherent risk as “a risk of something occurring that cannot be avoided by the exercise of reasonable care and skill”. Thus, it is arguable the infliction of pain and potentially damage is inherent and cannot be avoided by the exercise of reasonable care and skill in a sport such as boxing. Conversely, the infliction of damage through punches is the result of practise and skill in boxing. We can also look at what the legislation says about an obvious risk in a dangerous recreational activity.
Materialisation of obvious risk in a dangerous recreational activity
Section 5L of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) states “a person is not liable in negligence for harm suffered by another person as a result of the materialisation of an obvious risk of a dangerous recreational activity engaged in by the plaintiff”. Suffering damage, by being assaulted (repeatedly) seems an obvious component of boxing that participants agree to, in fact spend considerable periods of time training for.
The benefits of Boxing
Boxing has multiple benefits for those who participate within the sport. Such benefits include:
Famous people who have boxed:
Boxing and other combat sports are part and parcel of our existence as human beings. Such sports have been around for thousands of years, and do not appear to be disappearing anytime soon. Some love these bouts of aggression whereas others may cringe or hate them. Many more are simply indifferent. One thing for sure however is that the level of consented violence is without question. For this reason and for reasons set out above many want to have the sport banned.
Ask our principal solicitor what it is like to be a boxer he will say if you get into the ring and follow the rules (as does your competitor) than it is simply put the best sport ever. Moreover, although you are effectively legally consenting to being the possible victim or perpetrator of assault the skill and enjoyment of getting into the ring while not one for the light-hearted is the most satisfactory feeling a person can rise to and more over the parties and participants win, lose or draw, but they almost always show gratitude to all who are involved in the process.