Mum's grief spurs campaign for boxing regulation

Alex Slade's mother Deborah Harris-MacDonald with Doug MacDonald.
Alex Slade's mother Deborah Harris-MacDonald with Doug MacDonald.

It has taken more than two years for Deborah Harris-MacDonald to even begin to come to terms with the loss of her son Alex Slade, a promising amateur boxer.

Now Ms Harris-MacDonald hopes to elicit positive change from the enduring heartache by dragging Queensland out of the dark ages and updating the state's archaic approach to combat sports regulation.

Slade, just 18, was taken to a Townsville hospital after slumping to the canvas in the fourth round of a fight in Mackay in October 2010. He never regained consciousness and died a week later.

A coronial report showed Slade died from a blow to the head he sustained during the fight.

There was no suggestion of any wrongdoing from boxing administrators or the ringside doctor.

But the sport's jumbled, lethargic and disjointed reaction to Slade's death, in which rival amateur boxing splinter groups couldn't even decide which organisation he was fighting under, showed a complete collapse of the status quo policy of self-regulation for combat disciplines.

Queensland remains one of the only Australian states or territories without any legislation regarding the governance of boxing and other combat sports, including the rapidly expanding field of mixed martial arts.

The former Labor government ruled out any change to that policy, with then sports minister Phil Reeves saying in 2011 that "most organised combat sports" adequately enforced safety rules and practices.

That comes as little comfort to Slade's family, which was left in the dark by the sport their son loved, as revealed by an ongoing series of stories by Fairfax in the aftermath of his death.

Now his family is determined to help modernise Queensland's approach to combat sports, which remain a regulatory free-for-all that entrust a variety of fragmented local fight bodies to police their own practices.

"I know that you will never be able to ban the sport of boxing at all but there has to be lots more regulations, especially in the state of Queensland," Ms Harris-MacDonald said

"The rest of the states in Australia have rules and regulations and legislation.

"Unfortunately, at the time of Alex's death, we found out that Alex was not registered with any boxing association at the time of the fight.

"I had no contact with any federation, anywhere in Queensland at all. It was extremely disappointing for us as a family that we didn't have any boxing association telephone us, email us or even come down our driveway, just to say 'how are you going. Can we help'.

"Nobody at all."

It isn't as if Queensland would have to reinvent the wheel. There are blueprints already in place should the Newman Government feel the need to take a firmer grip of combat sports.

NSW has a Combat Sports Authority chaired by former Parramatta Eels chief executive Denis Fitzgerald and it counts doctors, a police officer and experienced sports administrators among the members of its board.

Brisbane sports lawyer Tim Fuller said it was absurd that Queensland would remain a black sheep and not fall into line with the vast majority of other states, which keep close tabs on the industry.

"The concept of a state going it alone and not being compliant with national laws or regulations is obsolete in the modern era. As a general rule, states are working more collectively together to get harmonisation of laws. Sport should be no different," said Fuller, who was also a former top-level rugby league player.

"Boxing and combat sport in Queensland needs to fall into step with other states who are taking the area of regulation seriously. A situation like Alex should never happen again."

The last time the matter was seriously discussed was in 2007 when the Beattie Government decided there was little community or industry support for a legislative approach to regulation.

This was despite a discussion paper that highlighted the pitfalls of a system reliant on self regulation.

'The industry is very fragmented and uncoordinated, making it unlikely that a voluntary regulatory regime would be consistently implemented or moderated," the paper said.

Ms MacDonald-Harris urged the new Queensland government to take the issue seriously before another death occurred.

"This is serious. There's a lot of buck-passing going on. There needs to be a responsible body out there, where people like us can go to and they could come to us. This needs to be done for the health of boxers and all combat sports," Ms Harris-MacDonald said.

"We don't want to get rid of boxing completely, but in Queensland, there's a lot of work to be done."

Mr Fuller will help co-ordinate a working group to begin informal discussions about combat reform in the state.

He hopes to draw people from a diverse group including those from within all combat sport disciplines, as well as medical professionals, administrators and any other interested parties.

Anyone interested in joining the discussion can signal their interest by sending an email to

This story Mum's grief spurs campaign for boxing regulation first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.