Thursday 19 April 2018

Coach John Kavanagh 'very positive' after first steps taken to regulate MMA in Ireland

John Kavanagh. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
John Kavanagh. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

The president of the Irish Amateur Pankration Association, John Kavanagh, has posted on Facebook that a process has begun with the goal of regulating MMA in Ireland.

In his post Kavanagh said “Yesterday a positive preliminary meeting took place between Minister Michael Ring, a representative of Sport Ireland, Professor Dan Healy and senior civil servants. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of MMA (mixed martial arts) in Ireland, its regulation and safety measures at competitions.”

Kavanagh confirmed that the dialogue would be ongoing – “Over the course of the next few weeks, a series of meetings are to take place between the IAPA and government officials to commence work towards regulating our sport efficiently and safely.”

These developments are coming against the backdrop of the tragic death of Portuguese fighter Joao Carvalho almost two weeks ago at an event in Dublin.

The MMA community has grown rapidly over the last 10 years helped in part by the rise of Conor McGregor and the other ‘Fighting Irish’ currently active in the UFC.

There are now in excess of 100 MMA clubs with thousands of members in the Republic of Ireland. As the sport had not been formerly recognised by the Irish Sports Council no regulation was in place to dictate minimum safety standards for promoters looking to stage MMA events.

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation was formed in 2012 to help countries with no formal regulation deal with governments and national MMA bodies to improve the overall governance of the sport. The IAPA is a member of IMMAF and has been offering guidelines since being established in 2014.

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IMMAF President Kerrith Brown, and CEO Densign White spoke to this week to show support for the IAPA and Irish government in their efforts to recognise and regulate MMA.

Brown outlined that all Ireland needs to do is take the lead from other sports with existing structures and other countries that have recently begun regulating MMA formally – “We’ve been supporting the IAPA since they set up and we’ve been in communication on a regular basis, especially over the last week or so. We’ve been pushing for recognition and regulation in every country that has a national federation affiliated to us.

“We can’t have a sport that regulates itself. We’ve got to develop from the grassroots levels up with regulation. If you look at the other core sports like judo, tae kwon do, boxing and karate they’ve all had a system and structure put in place from grassroots level over the years. MMA needs that too.”

IMMAF has had some success in a number of countries and believes Ireland is in a good position to follow suit. 

“The best example is what’s happening in Sweden. A few years ago MMA in Sweden was at risk of being banned. Through lobbying and the work of a lot of people who are still involved in IMMAF they were able to convince government that MMA should be regulated and professional events needed to be sanctioned.

“They set up a sanctioning board with independent people from government, other sports as well and people from the Swedish MMA community, So for example, when the UFC holds events in Stockholm they have to get sanctioning from the Swedish body otherwise the event can’t take place” Brown explained.

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

IMMAF has been instrumental in creating an international MMA community, especially at amateur level. In addition to running world and regional championships, they have contributed to the safety aspect by developing training programmes for referees and officials and creating guidelines for medical standards at events.

CEO Densign White acknowledged the work the IAPA has done in Ireland already – “The work that they (IAPA) have done has been phenomenal. Because MMA is not recognised by the Irish government they can only make recommendations and give guidelines to the promoters. They really need to be the body that is empowered by the Irish government to regulate the sport.

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John Kavanagh. Photo: Sportsfile

 There are individuals vested to MMA clubs and those clubs are affiliated to the IAPA. That work is in progress and they have over 30 clubs already affiliated with IAPA so there are a lot of structures put in place already.”

Kavanagh closed his statement with an optimistic outlook for the future of MMA

“I see this acknowledgment by the Sports Minister and government officials as a very positive first step towards our excellent athletes receiving the same level of support and recognition as Ireland's fantastic national sports teams do when they travel and represent their country.

"We have a lot of work to do, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I'm happy that after nearly 20 years of promoting MMA in Ireland to be making that first step.”

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