Thai doctors have been resolute in their calls to restrict children from engaging in any boxing competition in the country. This includes non-contact sparring for children 10 years under in order to protect and shield them from any brain injuries in the future.
Their reason includes the lack of Muay Thai regulation in the country that would prevent children from getting hurt or worse expose them to possible brain injury risks since it is a contact sport.
According to Jiraporn Laothamatas, the head of the Advanced Diagnostic Imaging Centre (AIMC) at Ramathibodi Hospital, there are at least 200,000-300,000 child boxers in Thailand, some as young as four years old. She added that many of them are engaging in competitions that could cause them brain traumas if they receive direct blows.
Doctor Laothamas is part of a team in Bangkok that worked on the first-ever research to prove that this kind of sport really has an adverse effect on children.
They sampled 300 child boxers who are aged 15 or under and had two to five years experience and compared it to 200 children who do not engage in this kind of sport.
The results are rather shocking as Laothamas' team observed that early tests are far worse than what they imagined before beginning the project. They noted that the brain scans of those children engaging in boxing look like those of people who have been in a car accident.
"Brain injuries caused by boxing can have long-term effects on the neurological system, leading to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. The injuries are accumulated over a long time and are hard to detect because children can lead a normal life for years."While these child boxers have better hand-eye coordination probably due to the extensive training, they also have serious memory issues that could lead to an even worse state if not treated, according to the study.
This, however, is not the biggest problem. Laothamas said that her biggest fear would be the evidence that engagement to this kind of sport could lead to iron build-up and bleeding in the brain.
After conducting an MRI to those children who box and those who do not, the study also found out that children who box have lower IQ compared to those who do not. Child boxers had an average IQ of 88, a far-cry to the 100 standard IQ level.
Laothamas, meanwhile, suggested that there should be better controls on child boxing in order for them to be protected from brain trauma. She further suggested that children under 10 must only be limited to non-contact sparring for them to learn the technique while children aged 10-15 must avoid head contact.
Thailand law, according to Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Research Center of Ramathibodi Hospital director Adisak Phalitpolkarnpim, stipulates mandatory protection for young boxers.
This law, however, is almost always ignored. Phalitpolkarnpim said child boxing in Thailand violates every rule.