Boxing and horse racing are in for a rude awakening writes Greg Cary.
I was reflecting in a recent article about the extent and pace of change in our society, particularly as it related to women in sport. It’s equally true that change is not about to stop, and it’s interesting to speculate about where it might be heading.
So many things that are at one point thought to be the natural order can very quickly become a thing of the past, of interest only to historians. In our own time the notion of a woman’s role in society has been one of the profound changes, and it’s curious now to look back (and not that far) to when things were very different.
In most cases, once changes happen, you wonder why it wasn’t always that way. When Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, for instance, many thought we would see a different kind of leader. It’s to make no comment on Ms Gillard to suggest there have been enough female leaders around the world over the last 50 years to know that as genders (for better and worse) we share most of the same qualities. The ceiling, now cracked, can be seen for the nonsense it always was. But, for those in charge, it was a handy nonsense.
I spent many years in radio and senior executives were always saying that people didn’t want to listen to women. It was a convenient way to make sure that women were never given an opportunity. Fact is people will listen to an interesting woman the same as they won’t listen to an uninteresting man. And so a simple truth has now become an everyday reality. Happily.
Sport, too, is a better environment than was once the case. It’s safer, more-inclusive and the athletes get a fairer share of what they help create.
In terms of change, one of the interesting areas to watch will be horse racing. Not long ago jockeys were treated as second class citizens and were denied simple privileges and consideration. Imagine what happened to the horses. Not pretty. Things are better now but, as the 4 Corners program on greyhound racing highlighted, our attitude towards animals has a way to go yet. The defenders of bullfighting for years made all kinds of silly macho arguments about its traditional and cultural importance. It is now mostly a dying relic of anther time.
Horse racing (which I love) must quickly come to terms with the more cruel aspects of the sport – namely the use of the whip and hurdle racing. We must also stop assuming animals see things as we do. Just because horses can run fast doesn’t mean they love to race fast. Most prefer lazy days in the paddock. The whip should be for safety purposes only.
Boxing faces even harsher challenges. Can a society that is increasingly learning about head injuries continue to tolerate a sport where such injuries are a necessary part (rather than a by-product) of the contest? At its best, boxing is a magnificent spectacle and requires a unique blend of courage and skill. Chess with gloves and a ring.
At its worst, however, it is ugly and exploitative. For every group including the likes of Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Hearns, Hagler and Leonard there is a much bigger one of those who made up the numbers and were the sport’s victims. Nothing wrong with that if it’s their choice but it seems a little odd that, at the same time as the NFL in the US has put aside $800 million dollars for victims of head knocks, others are paying thousands of dollars to watch Mayweather and Pacquiao.
Boxing is winning on points for now, but you get the feeling the fight has a few rounds to go.
What do you think about the direction of change in horse racing and boxing? Let us know in the comments below.