Expert urges 'no head contact' among young boxers
Thai boxers younger than 15 years old are being urged to avoid "head contact" to reduce the risk of brain injuries, while children aged under nine should be banned from the combat fight.
"Children aged between nine and 15 can take part in boxing, but direct head contact must not be allowed," Adisak Plitapolkarnpim, director of the Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Research Centre (CSIP) told the 9th Health Assembly at Impact Arena Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi recently.
Boxers aged between 13 and 15 can enjoy the fighting sport with light contact to the head and face, he said.
Dr Adisak, also an expert in child health, said the fighting rules should be revised to protect child boxers from possible injury to their brains.
"Spectators and a change in the boxing rules can play a vital role in preventing child boxers from suffering brain injuries, abnormality in the brain structure, Parkinson's disease and early-onset Alzheimer's later in life," he said.
He suggested the rules be changed to allow points to be gained from an "accurate" punch and if the boxer punches his opponent's head too hard, points should be deducted.
Dr Adisak also advises child boxers aged under nine to avoid any contact sport.
"The Boxing Act sets 15 as the minimum age to compete professionally, but few people involved in the muay Thai industry follow the law, so it has made little impact," he said.
Instead of getting involved in fights, Dr Adisak said underage boxers can instead perform wai kru, a traditional ritual in which students pay respect to their teachers.
"No one is safe from getting punched in the face or head directly," he said, insisting his intention was not to ban children from joining Thai boxing.
Meanwhile, he stressed that wearing head protection gear must be made compulsory for all ages. Dr Adisak said the 1999 Boxing Act should be amended to come in line with the Child Protection Act, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and the Convention on the Rights of the Child for the benefit of child boxers.
"We know Muay Thai paid fighters have been exploited in the past like child labourers and the matter still remains a serious concern," he said, referring to the 2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labour conducted by the United States Department of Labour's Bureau of International Labour Affairs.
The US research team, however, had no recommendation for boxers aged above 15 as they are mature enough to understand the consequences.
According to the CSIP, from 2007 to 2015, 420 young boxers registered with the Board of Boxing under the Sport Authority of Thailand annually.
The number of boxers aged under 15 registered with the board rose from 929 in 2007 to 9,998 this year.