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Seconds Out - Round Two - the view of Olivet College coach and expert Dr. Loren Partlo
by Michael O'Neill
October 14, 2015

(OCT 14)  Well that’s the AIBA’s take so how do others react especially the many who oppose the AIBA. We sought out the views of a leading American coach.

One such is respected Olivet College coach Dr. Loren Partlo, an expert also on concussions in boxing, headgear and professionally published research in these areas.

Partlo has appeared in many medical journals at home in the United States and indeed throughout the world and regularly appears on TV, Radio and in Social media.

Q: Why do you disagree so vehemently with the AIBA? Your own thoughts?

A: Frankly, I'm shocked that people are not all over this "No headguard" push. I think the majority of coaches thought it was so ridiculous that they didn't think it would get any traction. Then it was just for the Olympics and the Elite category and no one dreamed it would ever go past that. Now it's a requirement for the International Club Exchanges and people are realizing Dr. Wu didn't have permission to remove headguards he just did it.

Q: And now?

A :Now the question is will he get away with it somehow? They never suspected that this bad idea could get mandated without challenge or at the least some type of review process and I'm happy that the Olympic Medical Commission will be there (in Doha). This summer in Rio when AIBA thought they were going to get the "OK" to remove headguards from the Olympic Medical Commission they didn't! AIBA lost the fight then and they will continue to do so. It is not a case of me or a small group standing up to the giant AIBA. It is a simple case of people making a bad decision to remove safety equipment out of ignorance. Their poor judgement will not withstand scrutiny. The crime is the amount of emergency room visits, unreported concussions, etc. that are happening until they get told "NO".

Q: What happened in Philadelphia then in pre-Olympic trials?

A: There were 22 confirmed emergency room visits for cuts with the Philadelphia event. Who knows how many more should have went but didn't or couldn't afford it? NO wasn't good enough the first time for AIBA obviously, so they seem to think they can keep coming back until they get the answer they want but the OMC won't do it because it leaves them in an undefended position. The IOC paid for professional research "Boxing Headguard performance in punch machine tests" which was out in July. That was either driven by AIBA or by the OMC it was after RIO. Either way it was the chance for AIBA and it is gone.

Q: So you do not believe that the IOC will agree to headguards removal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio?

A: The IOC in good confidence CAN NOT recommend to the Medical Commission based on their findings which is the research study in July and the others before them, that headguards be removed. If AIBA drove the test it blew up in their face, which I suspect. I suspect it because in order to get the OMC to change a three decade past president and several professional research papers they would need a new professional study that was unbiased; and it was, and it was the kiss of death for the entire headguards issue. IF the OMC ordered it then it was proof to not change a thing. People seem to forget that the Olympics rules have not changed. Currently, head-guards are and have been required for over three decades for good reason.

Q: What about the boxers and their coaches?

A: I'm perplexed why coaches allow their boxers to be exploited and exposed to unnecessary disfigurement, brain damage, etc. when the rules for the Olympics require Headguards. If that is a requirement by the rules then we should be sticking to them until they are officially changed (by the IOC)!

Q:Tell us more re those trials in Philadelphia and your reaction ?

A: As I said earlier, there were 22 confirmed cases of boxers going to the Emergency room for head trauma - specifically cuts. There were actually 26 cuts and one broken nose, as counted by medical personnel at the tournament. In Baku, there were at least 23 cuts! Cuts are a tell-tale sign of head trauma. With cuts you need to start taking precautions regarding AIDS and hepatitis! Headguards are proven to eliminate over 90% of all cuts as shown by the 59 year study.

Q: So like many others you believe that the AIBA is out to become the leading Pro body? And where does that leave the Olympic Games?

A: IF the Olympics wants to BECOME A PROFESSIONAL BOXING FORMAT, THEN DO IT! Professionals box without headguards and “I DON’T CARE.” Amateur boxers don’t care, boxing coaches don’t care. Boxers in the Olympics are less than one percent of all amateur boxers. Just make the Olympics a professional endeavour and have professional Olympic try-outs. Make sure you do this with the appropriate Olympic approval before you make the decision to take headguards off and make it a pro-sport! The Olympic Medical Commission and Olympic Executive Committee do have a say in Olympic safety, changes and what happens in a sport.

Q: Do you believe the AIBA will persist in their campaign to remove headguards? You read what they said at the 2015 Championships in Doha this week.

A When AIBA says they are taking headguards off amateurs, they are crossing a well-defined line. It is counter to the safety culture that has been established over the last 30 years in every country that has amateur boxing. By removing headguards in amateur boxing, a large step backwards is being taken. If AIBA decides they want to try to take the headguards off of local shows, then AIBA is going to create more independent amateur boxing associations like the Ontario Boxing Association.

Q: How does the Ontario Boxing Association differ from others in North America?

A : The new Canadian Ontario Boxing Association offers a 5 million dollar insurance coverage to its members, and you get to keep your headguards. The writing is on the wall for AIBA and at every turn, they get told to keep the headguards in amateur boxing and keep amateur boxers safe, yet, they refuse. If AIBA continues their campaign to remove headguards, many countries will break away from AIBA and create their own, better, and safer amateur boxing programs. These independent self-governing programs will not have to answer to an international governing body that does not appear to care for the safety of their boxers.

Q: Why do you think the AIBA is pursuing the course they are?

A: I DO NOT see the logic in taking necessary safety equipment away from 99% of the amateur population so AIBA can get less than 1% to go professional. Does AIBA realize that if they remove headguards in amateur boxing that amateur boxing will cease to exist? Do you think facilities are going to allow shows to take place on their property so they can be named in the lawsuit when concussions and death occur because headguards were removed? AIBA is in for a big surprise if they think they can rule via intimidation and mandate a professional mind-set on an already established amateur culture. The 1% of boxers that go to the Olympics should not drive the remaining 99% of the amateur boxing.

Q: Can you explain?

A: Here is what I am talking about. Concussions at the Olympic trials are occurring. However, AIBA leadership, do not realize that when they tell the public there were “no concussions” it appears they are intentionally lying and attempting to sweep the injuries under the rug. Their actions appear very disingenuous. Amateur coaches don’t like being lied to because the integrity of AIBA then comes into question. We start to question the organization we want to support. The Ontario Boxing Association is looking better and better when our parent organization is lying to us, intentionally or not. AIBA leadership has a fiduciary responsibility to make accurate statements. 

Q: Have there been injuries before in Olympic trials?

A: Dr. Wu says there were no concussions in the past Olympic trials and then tries to leverage this as grounds to remove safety headguards. When did the absence of an injury become a reason to eliminate safety equipment? By the way his statements are totally false and reflect badly on AIBA; where is the proof? On Thursday, 10 September 2015, respected journalist David Owen states, “…AIBA President disclosed that instances of concussion in boxing competitions had been “zero” at both the recent European Games in Baku and the Pan American Games in Toronto.” ( Link)

THIS IS NOT TRUE there was at least one concussion! How do we know this? Because on July 23, 2015, during the Pan American games, Samir El-Mais, after his initial win, forfeited his next bout due to a concussion he received while competing, it is posted on line! (Link)

Q: Anything else of concern to you?

A: Can we trust what AIBA is saying? I see AIBA leadership making statements on concussions that clearly serves their agenda and are clearly false. Here is an entire article that highlights the idea that amateur boxing should scrap headguards in the future based on the premise that no concussions happened at the Asian games. (http://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1023231/no-concussions-at-asian-games-vindicates-scrapping-of-headguards-claims-aiba) If we apply that same logic to driving an automobile, then we shouldn’t wear seatbelts anymore because we made it down the road once without an accident. This is an example of the mind-set of the leadership of AIBA. At first I thought the removal of headguards was a joke. Initially I thought it was a stupid comment accidently sensationalized by some journalist, but it is not – AIBA seriously wants to remove headguards from all of amateur boxing. First, it was just the men, now are also included women and children are next.

Q: A conflict of interests then?

A: So, we have an amateur organization that is also a professional organization. Rather than try to change amateur boxing with under informed statements, AIBA needs to understand the culture of safety found in amateur boxing and support it. Instead, AIBA appears to ignore safety issues and recent research as an alternative to instituting new safety protocol and interventions. AIBA should be leading the way in safer equipment and safer procedures like the leaders of AIBA before them. Regarding the Heads-Up Campaign; yes, they are coming out with a new referee/coaching intervention. In the past the headguard was the active intervention that was put in place because this intervention is scientifically quantifiable and has already been proven to reduce over concussions significantly and 90% of cuts. Then there are passive interventions that don’t work well, like trying to teach a referee to intervene before an injury happens. Again, when you’re dealing with an amateur culture focused on safety don’t ignore, cover-up, misrepresent, or otherwise try to deceive people. We know what works, and we know what doesn’t. We know what real safety interventions look like, and we know what passive interventions look like.

Repetitive head trauma can cause a person to be permanently injured - you have probably heard the term “punch drunk.” AIBA is opening the box of trouble that amateur boxing closed over three decades ago when it required mandatory safety headguards for all amateur boxing - worldwide.

Unfortunately, AIBA is currently speaking to the world as if research on head trauma and concussions are non-existent. This only makes them appear less informed, self-serving, and hypocritical.

Q: There have been previous Olympic Games studies on subject have they not?

A: A study on Olympic competition has already been done to see if boxing with and without headguards made a difference? In 1984, the Olympic rules were changed to incorporate headguards to see if it would make boxing safer. Then a study covering a 59 year period was published, this article presented statistics on injuries sustained during Olympic competitions. The findings were used to evaluate the addition of headguards to see if they actually improved athlete safety, and they did.

The study titled Amateur boxing in the last 59 years. Impact of rules changes on the type of verdicts recorded and implications on boxers’ health was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Here is a direct quote from the 59 year study where the researchers were comparing the safety of boxing with and without headguards:

“Only after the introduction of the mandatory head guard in the 1984 Olympics, did the RSCI [Referee Stopped Contest Injury] reduce, it was clear that the introduction of the head guard reduced facial cuts by up to 90%. The mean rate of RSCI decisions showed a 3.3-fold reduction after the adoption of mandatory head guard and KO rate also significantly decreased…” (p. 455).

Here in print is the answer to how cuts were virtually eliminated and head trauma significantly reduced over the past three decades of Olympic and amateur boxing.

Q: What happened when the AIBA last asked the IOC to ok removal of headgear?

A: For the past few years AIBA asked the Olympic Medical Commission (OMC) to take headgear off – the result - it DID NOT HAPPEN! The last request occurred this summer in Rio. After this rejection (when does NO mean NO?) spokespeople for AIBA (Charles Butler, Dr. Wu, Ho Kim) started making wild claims, such as it is safer to box without headgear. They started looking for data to support their accusations and found they didn’t have any professionally published research for support. So, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) paid for professional research ‘Boxing Headguard Performance in Punch Machine Tests’ study which was conducted in Australia. The research was published on July 14th 2015 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The scientific facts once again speak for themselves as the findings show that “…head accelerations were substantially reduced by headguards (HG) compared to bare head form condition; often at least halved.”(Injury risk reduction, p.3) In laymen terms, that means you are twice as likely to get a concussion without a headguard. This research was the Kiss of Death for the idea that boxing without headguards in the 2016 Rio Olympics is safer. This study also reassured the OMC that headguards in Amateur boxing make boxing safer.

Q: So you don’t think that the IOC can now recommend removal of headgear for Rio 2016?

A: How in good confidence can the IOC recommend to the Olympic Medical Commission (OMC) that headguards should be removed when they just funded a study that decisively proved otherwise? IF the IOC recommends that headguards are removed, then they give the appearance of being bought out by AIBA because the facts don’t support removing headguards to promote safety.

On the other hand, the Olympic Medical Commission (OMC), who makes the decision to remove headguards in the Olympics is requiring scientific proof because they are in the business of safeguarding athletes! Remember, the Olympics is currently an amateur venue. Yet AIBA continues to hold Olympic trials without headguards as if it were a professional venue.

Q: Your conclusion then?

A: I’m thinking the leadership at AIBA doesn’t understand what “NO” means because they are still trying to push their agenda. AIBA is in a no-win situation because any data AIBA researchers collect would be self-supporting and suspect. If AIBA would have put the headguards back on in July for the remaining Olympic trials, the last time they were told “NO” by the OMC then there would have been fewer injuries that involved bleeding, disfigurement, concussions and emergency room visits.

What do they think will happen next? When a boxer is in the ring, multiple days, back-to-back, without a headguard, severe injury and even death may result. It is simply just a matter of time when you don’t take concussion intervention seriously! It is for this reason that professional boxing is a one night event followed by months of inactivity before the next fight. I applaud Samir El-Mais, and his coach from Canada, who made the safe decision and did not continue with a concussion in the Toronto PanAm Games.

Q: You have other concerns too about the AIBA, right?

A: I have some concerns that keep coming up regarding AIBA and the direction the current leadership is taking amateur boxing. Amateur boxing has worked hard worldwide to make one path and one sanctioning body for amateur boxing, this is AIBA. The main event for these amateur boxers has been the Olympics. Headguards are, and always will be, the biggest difference between professional and amateur boxing.

Just because the leadership at AIBA sees a path to create another professional organization, it doesn’t mean we want to lose our amateur organization in the process. The headguard issue is this important! Why, because the headguard is the single most important piece of safety equipment in amateur boxing!

I personally don’t think that professionals in the Olympics will be a winner in the long run, it was not for basketball. Seasoned professionals in any sport will easily dominate tenuously experienced amateurs. Really, if I want to watch professional boxing I already can.

Q: So what do YOU propose? What should the AIBA be doing?

A: Here is a list of points I would like to see AIBA address because I would like to keep AIBA as the main amateur international governing body. To do that, I believe they need to respect the safety processes of amateur boxing and that means they need to realize that Amateur boxing will not give up headguards.

1. Why are the leaders of AIBA working hard on creating a new professional organization at the expense of the amateur organization? They are supposed to be managing and improving amateur boxing internationally not professional boxing.

2. If the current Olympic rules require headguards (which they do) why are the trials being conducted without headguards?

3. Why isn’t AIBA being forthright in their presentation of what is happening regarding safety and concussions?

4. How is AIBA safeguarding its athletes by taking away proven safety equipment?

5. Why doesn’t AIBA use professional published research to promote safe amateur boxing practices?

6. Why is the leadership that is put into place to promote amateur boxing removing headguards across the board eventually : men, women and children? – Is this an attempt to end amateur boxing?

Interesting that the organization that is supposed to be growing amateur boxing is responsible for the creation of the new amateur Ontario Boxing Association.

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