THE brouhaha over the terrifying brain injuries suffered by the

American Gerald McClellan in his fight with Nigel Benn has faded away.

But should we let it? There are powerful financial forces at work,

determined to protect professional boxing from a ban. Why should hard

cash dominate the debate?

The Labour Party rejects a ban, claiming that it would drive the sport

underground and that unregulated bouts, where Queensberry rules would

not apply, would prove more dangerous. The reasoning is absurd. If a

sport deserves to be banned, ban it and devise fearsome penalties for

those who break the law.

Amateur boxing -- at school age and above -- should not be banned --

it is scrupulously controlled in a way that would drive the professional

game out of business. Serious injury is almost unknown. If amateur

boxing has a problem it is that it can start some youngsters thinking

about a career on the professional side.

If this sounds like infringing civil liberties and freedom of choice,

so be it. It is an empty argument that boxers know the risks and should

be allowed to take them. There are times when governments should protect

their citizens from themselves for their own good.

What's so special about boxing? Motor racing, parachute jumping, and

horse racing are said to be statistically more dangerous. A recent

American survey rates boxing as only the 29th most unsafe sport. But in

other sports the purpose is not deliberately to inflict physical damage

on your opponents. That's what makes boxing uniquely barbaric.

Sam Galbraith, Labour MP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, has the

courage to speak out against his party's policy. He is entitled to do so

-- as an experienced neurosurgeon who, while at the Southern General

Hospital in Glasgow, conducted a special study of head injuries in


''This sort of assault cannot continue,'' he says. ''Medical back-up

comes in too late. The purpose of boxing is to inflict brain damage.''

That is a horrifying thought. Boxers actually want to damage each

other. When a boxer is bleeding from an eye injury his opponent

concentrates on opening up the wound further.

At the Benn-McClellan fight there were two doctors, two paramedic

teams, an anaesthetist, and an ambulance standing by, yet they could do

little until it was too late. As McClellan lay there, they placed an

electronic monitor under his skull to measure any build-up of pressure.

But the brain damage could have been inflicted at any time during the

fight -- McClellan may have been bleeding slowly without anyone

realising it. Headgear might reduce the risk of injury on the night but

it does nothing to prevent accumulative brain damage.

The opposite corners face up to one another aggressively. The British

Medical Association has long campaigned against professional boxing on

the grounds of safety and now talks of boxers ''playing roulette with

their brains''. The British Boxing Board of Control accepts that

''boxing is a dangerous sport'' but maintains that ''We do every mortal

thing we can to make it as safe a sport as possible''. With the emphasis

on ''mortal'', of course.

Ironically, Michael Watson -- who sustained similar injuries in a

fight against Chris Eubank -- watched the McClellan fight from the

ringside in a wheelchair. He has made only a partial recovery after four

years of misery and anguish.

Television should now examine its own conscience. Professional boxing

was being counted out on its feet until TV injected big money for live

coverage. It happened with wrestling, whose popularity died away when

the cameras moved on. TV has the power to make it happen again.

However, that does not absolve Government from taking its own action.

Professional boxing is a cruel, vicious sport. In the words of Sam

Galbraith: ''How many more people have to die or be maimed before we

call a halt?''