WASHINGTON -- Muhammad Ali asked Congress on Thursday to
create a U.S. Boxing Commission, saying oversight by the federal
government is needed to protect boxers from exploitation and
Ali's testimony before a congressional panel was read by his
wife, Lonnie Ali, because he suffers from Parkinson's disease. As
she spoke, he sat in a seat next to her, trembling -- one of the
symptoms of Parkinson's.
"Reform measures are unlikely to succeed," Ali said, "unless
a U.S. Boxing Commission is created with authority to oversee a
sport that still attracts a disproportionate number of unsavory
elements that prey upon the hopes and dreams of young athletes."
Legislation authored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would create
a three-person commission -- appointed by the president -- to license
boxers, managers, promoters and sanctioning organizations. It would
impose uniform health and safety standards, establish a centralized
medical registry and provide uniform ranking criteria and
contractual guidelines. The bill has passed the Senate but no
action on it is expected in the House this year.
In 1996, Congress established minimum health and safety
standards for professional boxing, which were expanded by the
Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000.
But the former heavyweight champion said more work was needed,
citing a 2003 Government Accountability Office study which found
that inconsistent regulation by state commissions led to permanent
and sometimes fatal injuries, economic exploitation of boxers and
"There are still disturbing indications that federal, state and
tribal enforcement of boxing laws has been spotty and in some
respects, nonexistent," Ali told the stargazed members of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee's trade and consumer protection
The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said it
was probably too late to win House passage, but that he would try
to move it through the committee in 2005.
Ali, who did not speak at the hearing, signed autographs for
several congressional staffers and even a few lawmakers after his
Robert E. Mack, general counsel for the World Boxing
Association, one of the sport's sanctioning bodies, called the
legislation too broad.
Mack, who was also representing the International Boxing
Federation, said states already have sufficient authority to
regulate the sport and to make sure there are adequate medical
However, Bruce Spizler, a lawyer for the Association of Boxing
Commissioners, which represents state and tribal boxing
commissions, said that his organization has no authority to force
any kind of minimum state standards.
A U.S. Boxing Commission is needed to impose such standards, he
told the subcommittee.