The Last Word: A tainted triumph

The Last Word A tainted

It was the early hours of Sunday morning here in Israel when our very own Yuri Foreman became a world boxing champion, the first Israeli to win a major world title. As the judges' unanimous decision was announced at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the 29-year-old pugilist nearly collapsed with emotion, sparking a deep sense of pride within thousands of Israelis watching back home on television as well as the wider, global Jewish community. Foreman may have only spent nine years of his life in Israel, sandwiched between his early years in Belarus and formative time as an emerging boxing professional in New York, but on Saturday night he was quick to grab hold of an Israeli flag as he posed with his new WBA super welterweight world title belt in front of the cameras. What more could we want than an Israeli, a religious Jew, grabbing world headlines for a hard fought sporting triumph? However, this columnist was filled with mixed emotions as a battered and bruised Foreman paraded round the ring after the fight and then tried to hide his injuries with large, black sunglasses during interviews with the media. The display of the blue and white flag on the international stage after an Israeli athletic triumph is always a moment to revel in, but the violent method of Foreman's victory left it intrinsically tainted. Both fighters left the arena covered in cuts and marks, and later this week Foreman had to have plastic surgery to repair a cut above his left eye. Calls for boxing to be banned are always swatted away by fight fans as a denial of personal freedoms, but how can we delight in a sport where the specific aim is to beat someone up so badly that they can't carry on? Undoubtedly, the athleticism, skill, tactics and endurance boxers display are all to be admired. But when the examples of fatal or near-fatal injuries build up, from the extensive damage Chris Eubank inflicted on Michael Watson's in 1991 to the blood clot Paul Ingle had removed from his brain after his 2000 fight with Mbulelo Botile, we must ask ourselves whether boxing should still be seen as such as a noble and respected sport. Yes, many sports are dangerous, and more people may die after suffering injuries in car or horse races. But those are desperately unfortunate side effects of such activities, not the raison d'être. Although some countries, including Sweden and Norway, have made it illegal, it is unlikely boxing will be outlawed worldwide, despite the numerous medical reports proving its inherent dangers. In recent weeks, it was somewhat disconcerting to watch the build up to the Foreman fight, and that of Dmitriy Salita's battle with Britain's Amir Khan scheduled for December 5 in Newcastle, England, when both US-based boxers publicize their commitment to Orthodox Judaism. Foreman has even gone a step further and is famously a couple of years into training to become a rabbi. They have spoken of their firm commitment to the centuries-old fight game, espousing its spiritual elements. But perhaps anyone with a true moral conscience should be wary of supporting a sport which intentionally inflicts so much harm and pain with no remorse.