Watching some of a recent fight on television, I wondered about the morality of boxing as a sport. Should Christians be involved in this modern form of barbarism?
Although some Catholics would condemn all boxing as a modern version of the gladiatorial contests of the Romans, I think it is possible to make a distinction between boxing as a sport and the travesty of sport that was shown in the recent title fight and its build-up. Christians have long been involved in providing sporting activities for young people. In inner cities boxing is a sport that can help to foster a sense of fair play, and indeed of “sporting” behaviour in which the winner and the loser behave graciously towards each other after competing in a fair fight. There is still something of this spirit in the various rituals of hand-shaking and shirt-swapping that take place after football matches, for example. In amateur boxing, seen as a sport in local clubs for boys, the same kind of spirit is still very much present. The officials present do their best to ensure that nobody is humiliated, the fight is quickly stopped if it is obviously too unequal a match, and the boys congratulate each other afterwards.
Competitive sport has long been seen as an alternative to that violence which can develop between different groups, gangs, tribes or even nations. The theatrical threats and attempts at verbal humiliation that are nowadays expected of some professional boxers undermine the very basis of sporting competition. The behaviour of sporting celebrities is a major influence on the attitudes of the young and it is a shame to see any sport become a malevolent and big-headed rivalry since, at its best, sport can serve to guard against precisely this weakness in human nature.