By Peter Rutherford
SEOUL (Reuters) - The decision to remove protective headgear in men's amateur boxing has made the sport safer by reducing concussions and forcing fighters to protect their heads more, Ching-Kuo Wu, the president of the governing AIBA, told Reuters on Wednesday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) Congress on South Korea's Jeju Island, Wu also said women's boxing could one day follow suit but only after extensive monitoring of the men's game.
The AIBA opted to remove headgear in elite men's bouts last year based on medical statistics suggesting the protective padding can cause more jarring to boxers' heads and contribute to brain damage. Some boxers have also complained that headgear makes it more difficult to see punches coming.
Wu said this year's Commonwealth and Asian Games had shown the AIBA's decision had been the right one.
"Commonwealth Games? No concussions. Asian Games? No concussions," Wu told Reuters by telephone.
The decision was taken based on extensive research by the association's own medical commission as well as six independent organizations, the Taiwanese official added.
"The conclusion was that concussions dropped to almost zero without the headguard," said Wu, adding that the research included data compiled from more than 30,000 bouts.
"People felt that wearing headgear makes everything safe, so why were there more concussions?
"The problem was that it led to boxers not thinking to protect their heads, so when they were defending they didn't care so much about getting hit in the head.
"By removing headgear, it has changed the way boxers and coaches prepare, it has changed tactics. Now you have to defend better, use good techniques to protect your head."
STEP BY STEP
Fighters at this year's Commonwealth and Asian Games seemed at ease without the headgear, though the aggressive, unpolished nature of amateur boxing led to more facial cuts and bruises.
Australian boxer Daniel Lewis said at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in July that the removal of headguards had cost him a shot at a medal after he failed a medical check before his quarter-final due to a badly cut eye.
Wu said that the overwhelming reaction from the amateur boxing community had been positive and that safety was the AIBA's paramount concern.
"All the research that we have showed the safety of boxers is not (negatively) affected by removing headguards," he said.
Women's professional boxing was stunned by the death of South African fighter Phindile Mwelase last month, after the 31-year-old slipped into a coma and died after being knocked out.
However, Wu said there had been no injuries at major women's amateur competitions and that headgear could be removed if data continued to back up safety statistics at the men's level.
"We have to do this step by step," he said.
"Once everything is proved... then we can start to have some test and consider it in future for women."
(Editing by John O'Brien)