Men’s amateur boxing at the Rio Olympics will be the have the first matches without head guards since 1984. In 1984 some of the boxing matches appeared to be somewhat brutal and increased the perceived violence in the sport. As a result, head guards were added to all amateur boxing matches at the Summer Olympics. Leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio the International Boxing Association (AIBA) voted to remove head guards from competition. The AIBA argued that the head guards were not preventing the scenarios that they were designed to stop and might encourage more dangerous fighting.
From the New York Times article:
One was that the head guards created a bigger target for boxers, who in turn attempted more head blows. The other was that the gear was giving boxers a false sense of security.
Several studies, including one commissioned by the association, found that the number of acute brain injuries declined when head guards were not used. In the world championship tournaments overseen by the association from 2009 to 2013, the number of times a fight was stopped because of one boxer receiving repeated head blows fell 43 percent in bouts without head guards compared with fights with head guards.
Some doctors were more critical of the idea that someone can reduce concussions in boxing:
Dr. Robert Cantu, who has been closely identified with the ongoing issue of concussions in the National Football League and is a member of the Association of Ringside Physicians, a group against the removal of head guards for amateurs, said the gear was not designed to prevent concussions.
“The idea that headgear prevents concussions is ludicrous to begin with,” he said. “It would be great if it did, but to say that taking it off will lead to fewer concussions doesn’t make sense, either.”
The biggest concern from a competition stand point has been the increased risks of cuts. A cut on a fighter has the possibility to end the fight if it creates a dangerous situation. An athlete’s Olympic dreams could end because of a severe cut on his face because of an accidental head-butt that would have been prevented with a head guard.
Dr. Barry Jordan, who serves as the physician for USA Boxing believes that removing the head guards is supposed to entice professional fighters to participate in the Olympics.
The head guard’s biggest achievement might have been easing the concerns of viewers. The Olympics draw a much wider demographic net than the normal casual sports fan. The eustress caused by combat sports can be difficult enough for many non-sports fans to watch and there is a good chance that removing the head guards will only make the tension more difficult for non-sports fans to watch. If someone isn’t entertained by boxing because they perceive the sport to be dangerous there are many other sports for the person to watch, meaning that there could be a noticeable decrease in viewers this Summer Olympics.