Bells ring over boxing ban repeal

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An intention by Norway’s new Conservatives-led government to end a ban on professional boxing in Norway is drawing both cheers and protests. In one corner is Norway’s own international boxing champion Cecilia Brækhus, and in the other, brain surgeon Ingunn Rise Kirkeby, who fears a rise in serious head injuries.

Erna Solberg, set on being Norway's next prime minister, also tried to show some muscle with Norway's boxing star Cecilia Brækhus while out campaigning earlier this week. PHOTO: Høyre

Norway’s boxing star Cecilia Brækhus (right) comes from Bergen, just like Prime Minister-elect Erna Soberg (left). Now Solberg’s new government intends to end Norway’s ban on professional boxing, which would allow Brækhus to finally compete in her sport on home turf. PHOTO: Høyre

“I’m advising Erna (Solberg) and Siv (Jensen) to think twice about this,” Kirkeby told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday. She fears an increase in concussions and far more severe brain injuries when amateurs start boxing and when the pros can take part in boxing matches in Norway. They can go several lengthy rounds with no protection to their heads.

Norwegian boxing pro and champion Brækhus, though, was delighted by the prospect that she’ll finally be able to box on home turf starting next year, when it’s expected that Solberg’s Conservative Party and Jensen’s Progress Party will win support for their boxing initiative from the other non-socialist parties in parliament. A spokesman for the Liberal Party has already said they’ll vote in favour of ending the boxing ban, giving Solberg and Jensen the majority they need.

Norway has banned professional boxing since 1981, while a so-called “knock-out law” also restricts sports that allow knock-outs. Aftenposten reported that the new government may also repeal it, or allow dispensation, clearing the way not only for Brækhus “to conduct her sport in her own homeland,” as Jensen said Thursday, but also for other sports including full-contact karate and kickboxing.

“This is so exciting,” Brækhus told Aftenposten on the phone from Uganda, where she’s been appearing on behalf of an organization to help get children off the streets and into sports. “I look forward to come home.”

Dr Ingunn Rise Kirkeby still wants a measure that at least requires use of helmets, saying she’s been “proud” that Norway is among the few countries that have banned professional boxing without helmets. She also is part of a medical experts group at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and says she’s not convinced the IOC will allow Olympic participation without helmets.

“That’s nonsense,” responded Odd Haktor Slåke, president of Norway’s boxing federation. He noted that the World Championship is being arranged without helmets, and claimed that boxing experts agree helmets don’t necessarily protect against blows to the head or lacerations.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund