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Thursday 21 June 2018

MMA leaders 'dragging their feet' on safety, says minister as inquest recommends new safeguards

Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho (on right) during his
bout with Charlie Ward. Photo: Dave Fogarty
Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho (on right) during his bout with Charlie Ward. Photo: Dave Fogarty
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) leaders have come under fire for "deliberately dragging their feet" on the need to improve safeguards and set up a governing body in Ireland.

Sports Minister Shane Ross has called on MMA leadership to safeguard fighters following the inquest into the death of Portuguese fighter, Joao Carvalho following a fight in 2016.

Mr Carvalho (28) sustained 41 blows to the head in the Total Extreme Fighting contest at Dublin's National Boxing Stadium on April 9, 2016 and died two days after the fight in hospital. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

An inquest ruled he died as a result of misadventure.

Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho (on right) during his
bout with Charlie Ward and inset, his brother Jose Alexandre Silvestre. Original photo: Dave Fogarty
Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho (on right) during his bout with Charlie Ward and inset, his brother Jose Alexandre Silvestre. Original photo: Dave Fogarty

“I cannot begin to imagine how painful the passing of Joao Carvalho has been for Mr Carvalho’s family and in particular his brother, Alexandre, who was at his bedside for his brother’s final moments," Mr Ross said.

In 2016 a body the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA) was established to regulate the sport - but it has not yet been recognised as an official governing body.

The Sports Minister and his junior minister, Brendan Griffin, said Sport Ireland and officials from the department of sport have "not seen any sign of the effort required" from the IMMAA to meet the standards required of a National Governing Body for a sport in relation to governance, child protection and competitor safety.

The Minister has said those involved are "deliberately dragging their feet" in relation to the establishment of governance and safety standards which is holding the sport back from being officially recognised in Ireland.

Joao Carvalho’s brother Jose Alexander Silvestre. Picture: Collins
Joao Carvalho’s brother Jose Alexander Silvestre. Picture: Collins

“It appears to me that MMA leaders here in Ireland are deliberately dragging their feet on the establishment of appropriate governance and safety standards," he said.

"Today I call on the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA) to do the right thing – take the steps that are required to safeguard your fighters and prevent needless injury and loss of life. Sport Ireland stands ready to help but can only help if you are willing to ask, and if you are willing to do the right thing.”

"The absence of a National Governing Body (NGB) for MMA in Ireland is unacceptable. All sporting organisations in Ireland are autonomous and self-governing," he said.

Sport Ireland and officials from the department have extended all the help possible to help MMA leaders establish a governing body which would allow the sport to be officially recognised and regulated in Ireland Minister Griffin said.

"Sport Ireland demands excellent standards of governance, child protection and competitor safety, among other things, before it will formally recognise a sport.  In the case of the IMMAA, we have not seen any sign of the effort required," he said.

However, the minister said "no real progress has been made".

Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho. Photo: Dave Fogarty
Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho. Photo: Dave Fogarty

Speaking on RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland Sports Ireland chief executive, John Treacy, said the body has "offered them all the help we can give them".

"What we need is leadership in this organisation that takes responsibility," he said.

Previously John Kavanagh, who was elected president of IMMA in 2016, said those involved in MMA in Ireland were "running towards" the type of regulation needed in order to protect fighters.

"We want to become a proper national governing body," he said at the time.

On Thursday an inquest heard Joao Carvalho (28) sustained 41 blows to the head in the Total Extreme Fighting contest at Dublin's National Boxing Stadium on April 9, 2016.

Medics carried the fighter through a crowded hallway to an ambulance waiting outside, Dublin Coroner's Court heard.

The fighter was rushed to the nearest emergency department on the floor of the ambulance. The father-of-two died in hospital two days after the fight.

The inquest heard from a neurosurgeon who said he was told there was a "limited budget" for the event when he raised concerns over the presence of suitably qualified medical personnel.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of misadventure and recommended the endorsement of a national governing body for MMA in Ireland.

Independent.ie has reached out to IMMA for comment.

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