The Straits Times says

'Sport' tragedy calls for soul-searching

The death of bodybuilder Pradip Subramaniam at an Asia Fighting Championship celebrity event about a week ago ought to be examined fully as the issues it invokes are troubling. Those devoted to sports would question the nature of such a bout: is it sport or entertainment, and how should it be conducted? This was a tragic end for someone who loved sport intensely and had served as president of the World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation. Pradip had gamely agreed to enter the ring at the last minute for the celebrity fight, presumably to help promote interest in muay thai as a sport. Given the circumstances, what is the duty of care owed by an organiser to participants of such a bout?

It's a testament to the enduring hold of sports that fans devour sports writing even though they know full well what is the outcome. Accounts of Pradip's death, which bore an end that no one had anticipated, deserve to be pored over carefully too, as an exhibition match should never be taken lightly - especially in a ring or cage. The 32-year-old died as a result of cardiac arrest respiratory failure, based on a preliminary assessment. This is puzzling in the light of what Asia Fighting Championship had said earlier about participants being certified fit by a medical team. The question is whether higher standards and safety protocols ought to have been followed, beyond what is set by the World Muaythai Council whose focus is on professional fights.

Putting gloves on former Singapore Idol contestants might appear as an entertaining prospect but any form of combat sports should be regarded with due caution. This was required all the more when one of them dropped out suddenly and a replacement had to be found at short notice. All contact sports carry risks, even those which have morphed into sport entertainment, like wrestling. Not only must safeguards be emplaced, they should be adhered to visibly.

Predictably, sport entertainment mimics the championship model of sports - the format, grand entrance with rousing music and mist, talk of superior skills, and even a championship belt for the so-called winner. Storylines of "extreme championship" wrestling might project ruthless aggression and bitter feuds, but the professionals involved know where to draw the line and how to look out for each other's safety.

It is precisely because celebrities have to also demonstrate killer instincts in the name of entertainment that greater care is needed to help ensure terrible accidents do not occur. After all, their guard might be down when no one expects to be knocked out, maimed or killed. Celebrity fighters must be trained adequately to avoid injury to themselves and others before they are allowed to step into a ring. It does a sport no good when amateurs are put at risk by fight organisers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2017, with the headline ''Sport' tragedy calls for soul-searching'. Print Edition | Subscribe