Monday, January 07, 2008

Thirst for blood

This is my column today.

Having written in the past about my reservations about how boxing is being promoted in this country as some kind of a national sport, I guess it was expected that people would call my attention to the case of Choi Yo-Sam. Choi was a South Koren boxer who passed away recently under very tragic circumstances.

I actually read about Choi’s case in this paper and meant to write about it. However, it didn’t seem like a good idea to write about it to end or greet the New Year so I just filed the information in my head. But some readers e-mailed me about it, calling my attention to the fact that “Choi’s death was not an isolated case.”

Most news stories about Choi’s death carried the backgrounder on at least two other similar cases. The Associate Press report, which seemed like the source of most of the local stories, mentioned the case of another South Korean lightweight Duk Koo Kim who died four days after being knocked out by Ray Mancini in a title fight in Las Vegas in 1982 and yet another South Korean fighter, bantamweight Lee Tong-choon, who also died of injuries suffered in the brain in 1995, after losing consciousness following a fight against a Japanese boxer in Tokyo.

Choi suffered a brain hemorrhage during a title fight on Dec. 25 in Seoul, South Korea. Ironically, he won the fight, the World Boxing Organization intercontinental flyweight title over Heri Amol, his Indonesian challenger, but lost his life in the process. Amol sent Choi to the canvas with a right to the jaw just a few seconds before the final bell.

Choi was able to stagger to his feet, enough for him to be declared winner, but collapsed immediately after and had to be brought out of the place on a stretcher. He lapsed into coma and was eventually declared brain dead.

Although Choi was Asian, many among us may have difficulty empathizing with his case because he is not Filipino. Unfortunately, what happened to Choi has grave impact on the Philippines since we seem intent on positioning ourselves as a country of boxers.

What killed the South Korean boxer were injuries suffered on his head and brain. Such injuries are actually not “accidental” as many of us would like to think. Contrary to myth, the human skull is not invincible. There are limits to how much pressure it can take.

And lest we forget, the whole point of boxing—the whole intent of a boxer—when he is in a ring during a fight is to deliberately pummel the other boxer’s body and head to knock him out. We are not talking about simply poking bodies with tentative, halfhearted jabs. We are talking about delivering powerful blows at another person’s body, thrown with all the force and all the strength that years of training can produce.

We can hide behind metaphors and indulge in all kinds of intellectual and philosophical swashbuckling, but the bottom line will remain. It all boils down to intent. And there is no ands or buts about it. The whole intent of boxing is to hurt and maim the other person. Surely, there is something objectionable to that.

Oh sure, there are many benefits that boxing provides and I’ve already written about these in the past. It’s a good form of exercise. It’s also a mind sport. It is a good training on discipline. I don’t dispute all that. But all that cannot erase the fact that boxing is a sport that deliberately aims to hurt and kill another person. Its not like other sports where the object is to shoot or hit balls, or break tapes, or carry weights, or throw objects into the air.

And then there’s the kind of reaction a boxing fight generates from spectators. I have been to a number of boxing bouts and truly, there are a few things in this world that can match the kind of naked thirst for blood that it is palpable in these matches. The crowd roars with delight at each blow a boxer throws into the other boxer’s body. The crowd not only cajoles boxers to maim each other; it literally screams for blood.

One can see, hear, smell and touch the thirst for blood. Seeing a crowd being brought to its feet, applauding with fervor and appreciation each blow that lands on another person’s body, culminating into a giant roar of approval when the other boxer’s body crumbles to the strength and cunning of the victor, is truly a most gruesome spectacle.

Surely it is never too late in the day to stop this modern-day reincarnation of the ancient pastime of the Romans. If not, then surely, there are things we can do to make the sport safer for the boxers. I know that the maximum number of rounds allowed in a boxing match has been reduced from 15 to 12. I also know that certain boxing matches require that the pugilists wear protective headgear.

I think most among us can still appreciate boxing matches where winners win on points and where champions become so not because they have maimed their opponents, or worst, sent them to the grave. Boxing does not have to be about killing the other person to prove superiority. It doesn’t have to be murder.

***

And while we are at it, maybe this is a good time as any to point out to our politicians and their supporters who are already salivating and screaming and thirsting for blood, that the 2010 presidential elections are at least a good two-years-and-a-half away. If we are to go by the frenzied preparations that are already underway, it appears that we are a people that live and breathe only for elections.

As a strong advocate of strategic thinking, I subscribe to the notion that planning and strategy-formulation are elements of success one cannot substitute. So I recognize that the leaders of our political parties must already put in place some semblance of a strategic plan for 2010. But please, there is no need to involve the whole voting populace in the process.

We don’t need to be privy to the shameless horse-trading and backroom negotiations. We know many among our leaders are already drooling over the prospects of being called His or Her Excellency, the President of the Republic of the Philippines. Fine. We know everyone has a right to have a moist eye on the coveted seat of power. We know you all want to be President. We are aware that each one of you has illusions of being presidential timber (the irrepressible justice secretary said something witty that cracked me up for once, something about people wanting to become President, “from the presidential timber to the presidential toothpick”).

But please, spare us the sordid details. We know that all that blabbering and posturing simply translate into jostling for attention. But the elections are still in 2010 so stop preening like peacocks and blabbering like baboons. If you want to be noticed and appreciated, do what you are supposed to do, which is help this country move forward. There are so many things that we can all focus our energies on aside from elections.

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