Oversight and safety for popular sports
From ancient Egypt to today, boxing and other combat sports have proven popular throughout the ages. In California, that popularity continues under the oversight of the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC).
AN ANCIENT SPORT
According to the International Olympic Committee, boxing as a formal sport can be traced back to ancient Egypt around 3000 B.C. Boxing was introduced to the ancient Olympic Games by the Greeks in the late 7th century B.C., when soft leather thongs were used to bind boxers’ hands and forearms for protection.
The sport continued in Rome, with metal-studded gloves instead of leather thongs, and matches usually ending in death. After the fall of Rome, it took nearly a millennium for boxing’s popularity to reemerge, this time in 17th century England, which organized amateur sport boxing in the late 1800s with the establishment of uniform rules and specific weight classes still in use today—bantam, feather, light, middle, and heavy—and the required use of gloves.
When boxing made its modern-day Olympic debut in 1904 at the St. Louis Games, the United States—the only country to enter a boxing team—took home all the medals. Men’s boxing has been included in all modern Olympic Games except one—Stockholm in 1912—as the sport was outlawed in Sweden at the time. Women’s boxing made its debut at the 2012 London Games.
BOXING ON THE BALLOT
As noted with Sweden’s Olympic example, despite thousands of years of history, many felt boxing, in addition to being a combat sport, encouraged gambling and rowdy behavior among its spectators, resulting in controversy and occasional outright outlawing.
And California wasn’t immune to boxing opposition: As chronicled by the University of California’s California Digital Library archives, despite the sport’s renewed Gold Rush popularity, the original 1850 California State Constitution expressly prohibited “all fighting for reward without deadly weapons,” and California’s early legislators passed further laws making professional boxing and wrestling illegal. In 1899, boxing and wrestling were made legal under controlled conditions; however, by 1914, legislation made professional combative sports illegal once again.
So sports proponents took the issue straight to California voters with 1924’s Proposition 7, which sought to authorize boxing and wrestling contests for prizes, as well as to create a state athletic commission to oversee and license contests and participants. While opponents touted the “brutalities and other evils” of prize fighting, proponents emphasized sport popularity, its patriotic embrace by World War I soldiers (“[b]oxing and wrestling, it will be recalled, were favorite diversions of the boys in France before and after the Armistice”), lower injury rates compared to other sports, spectator respectability—with audiences regularly featuring “lawyers, doctors, merchants, bankers, minsters, public officials, and ladies”—and a proposed new system of state-level supervision.
In the end, Proposition 7 and its supporters held forth with a 51% majority vote, establishing CSAC and beginning a new era for boxing and related sports in our state.
STATE COMMITMENT TO SPORTS OVERSIGHT
Since that pro-Proposition 7 vote nearly a century ago, the Department of Consumer Affairs’ CSAC has provided oversight of boxing managers, promoters, and event officiating, and has worked to protect the health and safety of the participants.
Today, CSAC’s duties include licensing, prohibited substance testing, and event regulation throughout the state. It licenses fighters, promoters, managers, seconds, matchmakers, referees, judges, timekeepers, and professional trainers, and approves ringside physicians. It also regulates professional events within its jurisdiction, staffing each event with several specialized and well-trained athletic inspectors to enforce the regulations related to combat sporting events.
CSAC’s oversight also includes amateur and professional kickboxing and professional mixed martial arts, with the commission licensing all participants and supervising these increasingly popular events.