Archive for April, 2013

In my continued efforts to bring attention to the legal gap making amateur martial arts / MMA illegal in British Columbia (and most Canadian Provinces for that matter) I approached BC’s current Minister of Sport to address this issue.  Unsurprisingly the Government is wrapped up in the current election campaign and has no plans to remedy this until after the new government is formed.  Once the election dust settles whichever party is given power will hopefully address this issue.

Below is Bill Bennett’s (the current Minister of Sport) full reply.  I have reached out to the BCNDP about their plans to address this and will publish their response assuming they are prepared to address this issue.  You can click here to read the government’s previous response acknowledging that once Bill S-209 passes “all provinces would have to designate a regulating body for amateur MMA.

Erik,

 I am deeply involved in my own re-election campaign here in Kootenay East and will not have the opportunity to give this topic the time it deserves until after May 14th. I am aware of the issues you raise and I received advice from my staff on the criminal code issues before my recent announcement. I agree the current situation in the country is not particularly adequate and I am hopeful the federal government will resolve the legislative impediment. Either way, we are proceeding, as other provinces have already proceeded. After the election, I would be grateful to sit down and discuss specifically what else you think the Province should do. I want to fix this situation.

 Bill Bennett

Update: April 19, 2013 –

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As Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over till it’s over.  While Bill S-209 is expected to pass into law giving professional MMA a legal framework in Canada, the Canadian Medical Association is doing what it can to derail this result.

In a press release issued today it is reported that the president of the Canadian Medical Association is warning MPs about the dangers of legitimizing mixed martial arts bouts.  While this is of  little surprise given the CMA’s official position that “all boxing be banned in Canada” it is a hypocritical position to take.   Although MMA / Boxing clearly come with risk of participant injury the overall risk is “lower than football, hockey, wrestling and soccer”.  It is a slippery slope to get into the issue of the prohibition of one sport without addressing others.  If we go down that route even popular activities such as cheerleading could be scrutinized due to high traumatic injury risk.  The CMA is not taking any public stance on other sports with higher injury rates making it hard to understand the driving force behind their position if it is not grounded in injury risk.

The CMA would better serve the community by informing the public of real risks of injury in any given contact sport, including long term health consequences from the realities of traumatic brain injury, instead of playing politics.  The public is best served with good information so participants can make informed decisions about whether they wish to engage in any given activity and the medical community can play an important role in educating the public of these risks.  Running away from regulation, on the other hand, does not serve the public interest.  One need look no further than the progress MMA has made over the past twenty years to realize that regulation has proven beneficial to the development of this sport and the safety of its participants.

The text of the full press release reads as follows:

OTTAWA – The president of the Canadian Medical Association is warning MPs about the dangers of legitimizing mixed martial arts bouts.

Dr. Anna Reid is appearing before the Commons justice committee which is studying legislation that would bring combat sports, including mixed martial arts, under supervision and regulation.

The bill would update the 80-year-old Criminal Code section dealing with prize fights.

Combat sports are currently in a sort of legal limbo in that they technically may be illegal under the law, but are condoned.

Supporters of the bill say it will promote safer practices in mixed martial arts, a popular — if often bloody — contest.

Reid says this kind of combat fighting is dangerous and often produces serious head injuries.

The association’s general council voted in 2010 for a ban on mixed martial arts prize fighting matches.

The present legislation passed the Senate with broad support and a similar bill had strong support on the Commons before it died due to prorogation.

Reid says the doctors don’t oppose combat sports such as judo and karate.

“However, cage fighting, like boxing, is distinct from many other sports, in that the basic intent of the fighter is to cause harm in order to incapacitate his or her opponent,” she said.

“And an activity in which the overriding goal is to pummel one’s opponent into submission does not promote good health.”

She said there is little evidence about the long-term risks from this kind of fighting, but noted studies show boxing poses risks of head trauma and subsequent neurological problems.

“For parliamentarians, and for society, the question of whether to legalize MMA under the Criminal Code therefore comes down to a choice: a choice between money and health.”

She said it is her duty to protect the health of patients and to promote non-harmful activities and it is the mandate of the CMA to advocate for the highest standards of health and health care.

“For me, as a physician, it is about putting health first. I cannot condone punches to the head.”

Here is a screenshot of their contemporaneous tweet stream:

CMA Bill S 209 Tweet Stream

bc open 2013 gold medal point sparring match

I had a great time attending the BC Open Martial Arts Championships  this past weekend.  It was a competitive event and I was particularly proud watching my oldest son’s spirited effort demonstrating his Karate forms and my youngest son winning gold in point sparring.  Martial Arts have done much for the positive growth of my children through the lessons of competition and self development.   It’s a shame that the event is illegal.  How can this be so when Karate contests are commonplace?  Amateur martial arts competitions exist in a legal black hole where they are technically illegal but the authorities simply choose to turn a blind eye instead of addressing this legal gap.  Here’s why –

Section 83 of the Canadian Criminal Code makes all ‘prize fighting’ illegal.  Despite what the name suggests, participants need not be paid to run afoul of the law.  A prize fight is defined as any”encounter or fight with fists or hands between two persons who have met for that purpose by previous arrangement made by or for them”.  (A definition so broad that even sports like wrestling are likely caught by the language). The only exceptions made for amateur contests are limited to “boxing” contests.

But this law is being amended and that will fix the problem, right?  Wrong.  While the Federal Government is expected to overhaul Section 83 by passing Bill S-209, this will not address the illegality of amateur martial arts contests.  The reason being that once Bill S-209 is passed amateur martial arts contests will remain illegal unless the sport is on the programme of the International Olympic Committee (most martial arts, including Karate, Kickboxing and MMA are not), or if the sport is designated by or held with the specific permission of the Provincial authorities.

Currently no BC legislation exists setting out a list of designated or permitted amateur contests.

But the BC Athletic Commissioner Act has been passed, that will address this right?  Wrong.  The BC Athletic Commissioner Act comes into force on May 31 however it will only be limited to the regulation of professional boxing and Mixed Martial Arts contests.  The gap on the amateur side will remain.

With this legal gap one of three realities will exist.  Amateur Karate and other martial arts contests (including Mixed Martial Arts) will remain illegal and the Government will either

1. Keep the status quo and ignore the law choosing to not prosecute offenders under Section 83 of the Criminal Code

2. Only selectively enforce the law when a specific case calls public attention for the need to do so

3.  Enforce the law and shut down any amateur martial arts contests

None of these options are desireable.  So what can we do?  The Province of BC needs to pass meaningful legislation setting out a comprehensive list of what amateur fighting contests are legal, set standards for participant safety and ensure that a legal framework exists to permit the positive growth of BC’s martial arts community without the shadow of the criminal code hanging over them.

The BC Government has just published a press release setting a date for the Athletic Commissioner Act to come into force as of May 30, 2013.  The Regulations still appear to be a work in progress.  The gap for kickboxing referenced at the end of the press release is an unfortunate one and hopefully the act will be expanded to cover other combat sports not to mention the gap which will remain on the amateur side.

The text reads as follows:

VICTORIA – Government has approved a regulation setting May 30, 2013 as the effective date for the Athletic Commissioner Act to come into force and for the BC Athletic Commissioner to begin operations, fulfilling a commitment made by Premier Christy Clark.

This new provincial regulatory regime will enhance the safety of participants in professional boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) through consistent regulation. The BC Athletic Commissioner will be responsible for administering a provincial standard of qualifications and safety protocols for all participants and officials through a uniform licensing and permitting framework, and ensuring compliance with the act and its regulation.

The provincial commissioner will replace local commissions (authorized under the Community Charter and the Vancouver Charter) that currently regulate these sports in their communities, thereby providing a more consistent regulatory approach.

Quotes:

Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett –

“There is no question mixed martial arts has rapidly grown into a tremendously popular sport here in British Columbia and across North America. A key priority for this government is to ensure that these activities take place in the safest possible environment. Regulation at the provincial level will also mean that MMA is regulated in a consistent way in all areas of the province. This benefits both participants and the MMA industry.”

Quick Facts:

  • The act comes into force effective May 30, 2013. Local athletic commissions will retain responsibility for boxing and MMA events authorized before May 30, 2013.
  • A process for hiring a commissioner is underway.
  • BC will join Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia in the regulation of MMA and boxing at the provincial level.
  • Professional kickboxing and Muay Thai kickboxing will not be regulated under the Athletic Commissioner Act. They may be added at a later date.

Last month I canvassed the Diaz/St. Pierre Weigh in controversy (You can click here for a good timeline summary of the controversy)concluding that while there may be no legal remedy available to Diaz his camp’s comments on the Regie’s actions may lead to much welcome scrutiny of this Commission.

Today the controversial pre-weigh in video with ‘off the record’ rules changes has resurfaced.  Watching this certainly sheds the controversy in a much darker light.  If the Commission decided to, off the record, not count decimals that is at best a very shady use of their discretion.  Worse, however, is the statement that the Commission will allow the fighter’s extra time to make weight.  This expressly flies in the face of s. 77 of Quebec’s Regulation Regarding Combat Sports which reads as follows “At an official weigh-in, no time shall be granted to a contestant to enable him to increase or decrease his weight.”

There really is no room for misinterpretation of section 77.  If Mike Mersch’s comments in the video below are a direct representation of what the Regie told him then the commission is in serious need of overhaul.

UFC Fighter Conduct Policy Image

In wake of the recent Matt Mitrione tirade against transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox the UFC has publicly released their “Fighter Conduct Policy” which can be accessed here: UFC Code of Conduct

The policy appears to apply to fighters only, not other UFC personnel.  It begins with an umbrella statement that fighters agree to “act in a legal, ethical and responsible manner and avoid conduct detrimental to the integrity of the UFC organization“.  The Policy goes on to spell out specific prohibited conduct which is largely criminal in nature.

More specific to the Mitrione situation the Policy prohibits “derogatory or offensive conduct, including without limitation insulting language, symbols, or actions about a person’s ethnic background heritage, color, race, national origin, age, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation“, language which clearly encompasses Mitrione’s recent comments.  The Policy gives the UFC the further ability to require fighters to “undergo clinical evaluation” and based on the results of this can require “participation in an education program, counselling or other treatment as recommended by a health professional“.

The policy sets out an initial investigative period after which the UFC can, in its “sole discretion” provide disciplinary measures which include the possibility of “fines, suspension, and cessation of service and may include conditions to be satisfied prior to the resolution of the incident“.  The policy also allows “immediate disciplinary measures” which can be taken pending investigation.  Fighter’s are given the right to an appeal process through arbitration administered by JAMS.

Lastly, the policy provides a self-reporting requirement.  If  a fighter fails to self-report an incident which constitutes misconduct that failure in itself is considered “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the UFC“.

canadian mma law boxing headgear imageConventional wisdom has long held that hits resulting in loss of consciousness were the primary factor in long term cognitive dysfunction in athletes.  New research continues to shed light on this assumption and it is becoming clearer that while concussive events can lead to long term harm, cumulative sub-concussive events take their own toll.

In a boxing specific study published earlier this year in the Journal of Clinical Science research demonstrated that  “functional impairment was more related to the volume and intensity of sparring during training than the frequency of knockouts inflicted during competition.”

This finding should serve a strong reminder that it is vital to protect your head not only in competition but in training.  Repeated blows to the head take their toll and current research demonstrates that sub-concussive events do add up.  There is nothing wrong with training hard but protect your head and spar smart.  There is no need to repeatedly rattle your brain in order to improve your craft!