The British Boxing Board of Control has been overseeing British professional boxing since 1929. During this time the role of the Board has changed immeasurably. In its early years the British Boxing Board of Control was concerned primarily with the procedural side of the sport such as the recognition of Championships. However, in the last few decades the raising of medical protection standards in British boxing has formed a major part of the Board’s work. Arbitration and disciplinary procedures, revision, upgrading and application of the Rules and Regulations, appointment of Referees and Timekeepers, the licensing of people involved in the sport and representation of the interests of British boxing internationally makes up the bulk of the remainder of the board’s work.
The Board was incorporated as a Limited Liability Company in 1989 and has approximately 2500 licence holders of which around 1100 are active boxers. Of these, the vast majority are semi-professional. There are only a few dozen British professional boxers who earn a full time living in the sport. Few British professional boxers these days have more than 12 contests a year and most compete only a handful of times. This trend has become most pronounced in the last 30 years.
To compare the careers of Tommy Farr and Lennox Lewis is illustrative. The former boxed for a total of 18 years (mainly between 1926 and 1940) and had 104 contests. The latter boxed for 14 years as a professional (between 1989 and 2003) and had only 44 contests. Freddie Mills the former World Light Heavyweight Champion and one of the most popular boxers of the 40s and 50s had 73 contests before he got a chance to challenge for the British and “Empire” Titles. World Super Middleweight Champion Carl Froch was able to challenge for the Commonwealth Championship in his 12th contest and the British in his 14th.
Concurrent with these changing career patterns there has been the increased activity of the Board in the area of medical controls and safeguards. The British Boxing Board of Control has never sought to deny that professional boxing is a physically hazardous sport and advises every licence holder of the potential dangers.
In addition, through its Medical Committee, the Board set up in 1950, it has provided British professional boxing with an unrivalled set of medical safety checks and balances. Like any effective system of checks and balances, this works through a mixture of the formal and informal.
Boxing is similar to most other professional sports in that it is a tight knit community. The relationship between the various officials involved works through a process of continuous dialogue, with the Board as the lynchpin. To the outside this can result in misunderstanding about the nature of the Board’s control over the sport. The following sections delineate the roles of the key people in the network of safeguards in British professional boxing.