Philippine fighters at risk in brain scan scam

Boxing gloves (File)
Boxing gloves (File)

Manila - A total of 150 professional boxers in the Philippines have been banned for falsifying brain scan results aimed at detecting serious head injuries in the sport, regulators said on Tuesday. 

The government has been imposing strict medical testing procedures following the deaths of several Filipino boxers from injuries sustained in professional fights in previous years. 

"The welfare and safety of our boxers is part of our mandate. We do not want any more boxing deaths," Games and Amusements Board chairperson Abraham Kahlil Mitra told reporters on Tuesday. 

The ban means one in seven of the country's 1 054 Filipino professional boxers are not allowed to step on the ring, the country's sports regulator said.

The board found 150 boxers had submitted "fake" CT scan results this year, apparently because they could not afford an actual test, the board's medical officer Radentor Viernes said. 

About half of those blacklisted have since submitted the required medical examinations and the ban against them will be reviewed, Mitra said. 

The board is also investigating the involvement of other parties in the CT scan fraud, he added. 

In 2012 the undefeated flyweight Karlo Maquinto, aged 21, collapsed and later died from a brain injury after only his ninth pro fight, having rallied from two early knockdowns to salvage a majority draw against a Filipino opponent. 

Two other Filipino professional boxers also died from ring injuries in 2005 and 2008, Mitra said. 

Apart from the boxing deaths, Viernes said the board had also refused to renew the licences of five other boxers due to brain injuries or fluid build-up. 

Four of them had been diagnosed with "minute haemorrhage" from blood vessels in the brain, believed to have been sustained in previous fights, while the fifth had brain oedema, Viernes added. 

The Philipines is a boxing hotbed that has produced the likes of legendary Manny Pacquiao, winner of world titles in an unprecedented eight different weight divisions. 

For many in the impoverished Asian nation, Pacquiao is an icon and role model and prize fighting offers one of the shortest tickets to fame and fortune for young Filipino males. 

However, Mitra said many success-starved Filipino fighters were earning puny prizes and could not afford CT scans that the health ministry says cost at least $170 or the more expensive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans costing almost three times as much. 

"We've been criticised for being too strict but still that's our job and we maintain it that way," he added.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told reporters on Tuesday the government had no plans to outlaw boxing, only to "regulate" it. 

To help the hard-up boxers and prevent more boxing deaths, Mitra and Ubial announced Tuesday that government hospitals will in future offer free medical tests to Filipinos applying for professional boxing licences.

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