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Boxers who battled for years in the ring often find they have little to fall back on.
A recently published study suggests there may be a way to change that and provide fighters a pension that will help them through the years that follow the final bell.
The study by The Segal Co., completed late last year and published in July, recommends that four "separate but complementary plans" be established to provide payments to retired boxers. Those retirees in the greatest need would receive payments from a charitable trust under the recommendations. A defined contribution and defined benefit plan would be set up, and a disability/survivors' benefit program would be established.
The study was among the requirements in the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 that looked at the regulations and health, safety and retirement issues related to boxing. The law called for the Secretary of Labor to arrange for the study.
Because pensions for boxers are "virtually non-existent, congressional action or collective bargaining" would be necessary to develop the programs, according to Thomas D. Levy, Washington-based senior vp and chief actuary at The Segal Co.
He pointed out that establishment of the plans could give eligible boxers a reasonable pension without a significantly high start-up cost for the programs.
It would cost about $7.5 million, the study estimates, to set up the four programs that would begin providing boxers pension payments. Of that, about $1 million would be deductions from fighters' earnings.
Funding for the plans could come from a number of sources, including a percentage of boxers' purses, contributions by managers and promoters and broadcast revenues, according to the study.
"We were surprised at how much we could do for a relatively modest amount," Mr. Levy said. However, he added, the study turned up fewer boxers than expected who would be eligible for benefits under the suggested threshold.
Under a defined benefits plan, the study suggested that the definition of "pension active" boxers should be those who had at least two fights scheduled for eight or more rounds annually. Under that definition, 472 fighters made the cut in 1996.
A year of "pension-eligible service" would be determined using the same definition of two scheduled eight-rounders per year.
The study found that 2,404 retired fighters had at least three years during which they fought in two or more scheduled eight-rounders, making them eligible for pension benefits under the study's definition.
The study suggests that the charitable trust and the defined benefit plan could be set up quickly to begin making small payments to current retirees.
Under a defined contribution plan, a boxer would contribute 4% of his earnings from fighting to a pension fund. The fight's promoter would contribute a matching amount. The study projects that a boxer who started today and fought 24 eight-rounders with average per bout earnings of $10,000 over his career, with an average annual 8% return on his contributions, would net around $15,000 per year at age 55, or as much as $40,000 per year at 65.
Mr. Levy pointed out that the pension programs are needed because boxers have very few opportunities to participate in such plans.
A state-run program in California has been in place since 1981. The defined contribution plan has assets of about $4 million, and fewer than 300 boxers are enrolled, according to The Segal Co. study.
The International Boxing Federation in 1993 set up a non-qualified defined contribution plan that requires boxers in championship fights to contribute 2% of their earnings in those bouts, not to exceed $30,000 per bout.
Robert W. Lee, president of the IBF, said the funds are invested by Lincoln National Insurance Corp. on the boxers' behalf. There currently are 131 fighters enrolled and about $900,000 in plan assets.
Mr. Lee said he is unfamiliar with The Segal Co. study but supports the idea of a plan that would cover a broad number of fighters.
But, he warned, boxers generally don't have the mind-set to worry about preparing for retirement. "You're not going to do it voluntarily," Mr. Lee said of a pension program.
Instead, fighters would have to be required to contribute. "You would have to force it for it to be done," he said. "When a guy fights for our title, he may not want to be a part of the program, but he's got to be a part of it."
The Segal Co. study suggests that pension programs for boxers have been absent largely because of the attitude of fighters. Because most start young, they don't worry about retirement, which might be decades away. "This is not a factor for most workers," the study says, "because their prime earning years are later in life when they are more likely to be retirement-conscious, and workers routinely gravitate towards companies that have better pension programs as they get older and move forward in their careers."
Boxing often draws its participants from economic groups that have a "hand to mouth" existence and no concept of saving for retirement, the study points out. It adds that many boxers who are able to earn a "decent living from boxing. . .often consume every cent to fulfill immediate needs and long-held wishes."
Free single copies of the study are available by sending a fax to Mary L. Feldman, senior vp-public affairs at The Segal Co. The fax number is 212-251-5490. Copies also can be requested at www.segalco.com.