WASHINGTON – Boxing great Muhammad Ali (search) asked Congress on Thursday to create a U.S. Boxing Commission, saying oversight by the federal government is needed to protect boxers from exploitation and injury.
Ali's testimony before a congressional panel was read by his wife, Lonnie Ali, because he suffers from Parkinson's disease. As she spoke, he sat in a seat next to her, trembling — one of the symptoms of Parkinson's (search).
"Reform measures are unlikely to succeed," Ali said, "unless a U.S. Boxing Commission is created with authority to oversee a sport that still attracts a disproportionate number of unsavory elements that prey upon the hopes and dreams of young athletes."
Legislation authored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would create a three-person commission — appointed by the president — to license boxers, managers, promoters and sanctioning organizations. It would impose uniform health and safety standards, establish a centralized medical registry and provide uniform ranking criteria and contractual guidelines. The bill has passed the Senate but no action on it is expected in the House this year.
In 1996, Congress established minimum health and safety standards for professional boxing, which were expanded by the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 (search).
But Ali said more work was needed, citing a 2003 Government Accountability Office study which found that inconsistent regulation by state commissions led to permanent and sometimes fatal injuries, economic exploitation of boxers and corruption.
"There are still disturbing indications that federal, state and tribal enforcement of boxing laws has been spotty and in some respects, nonexistent," Ali told the stargazed members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's trade and consumer protection subcommittee.
The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said it was probably too late to win House passage, but that he would try to move it through the committee in 2005.
Ali, who did not speak at the hearing, signed autographs for several congressional staffers and even a few lawmakers after his testimony.
Robert E. Mack, general counsel for the World Boxing Association, one of the sport's sanctioning bodies, called the legislation too broad.
Mack, who was also representing the International Boxing Federation, said states already have sufficient authority to regulate the sport and to make sure there are adequate medical safeguards.
However, Bruce Spizler, a lawyer for the Association of Boxing Commissioners, which represents state and tribal boxing commissions, said that his organization has no authority to force any kind of minimum state standards.
A U.S. Boxing Commission is needed to impose such standards, he told the subcommittee.