vancouver city council allows mixed martial arts events for two-year trial
Vancouver council has voted 6-3 to allow the holding of professional mixed martial arts events in the city after a two-year ban.
Today (December 17), council approved a recommendation from city staff that it permit the Vancouver Athletic Commission to sanction MMA events for two years on a “pilot basis”.
The commission will report back to council in two years on its experience with MMA.
Council's decision paves the way for the Ultimate Fighting Championship to hold a pay-per-view MMA event at GM Place in June 2010.
“I’m ready to now support this sport,” Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal said during the council meeting. “I think it’s time.”
Vision councillor Kerry Jang said he was dead-set against MMA two years ago but he now understands the sport has “evolved”. He said he feels comfortable watching MMA bouts on TV with his kids.
Non-Partisan Association councillor Suzanne Anton, Deal, and Jang attended an Honour Combat Championships amateur MMA event at the Edgewater Casino on November 27.
Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor Ellen Woodsworth and Vision councillors Andrea Reimer and Raymond Louie voted against the two-year trial.
Reimer said she is uncomfortable with the marketing of MMA events, which she noted is based on violence.
Woodsworth noted that the Ontario government interprets the Criminal Code as outlawing mixed martial arts. She questioned why the city would move forward without a clear sense of the legality of pro MMA fights. Woodsworth said she continues to believe, as council has expressed in the past, that “we need provincial regulation” of MMA.
Woodsworth also said that it was “appalling” that the report containing staff’s recommendations wasn’t available to the public until late afternoon on December 16. But council voted against her motion to defer its decision on the matter until January.
A dozen speakers signed up to discuss the issue at the council meeting.
Lawrence Epstein, a lawyer for Zuffa, which owns the Ultimate Fighting Championship, told council that the prominent MMA promotion has “never really had any serious injuries” or deaths at its events. He said each UFC event typically carries $12 million in insurance, and his Las Vegas-based company is “constantly looking” at rule changes to make the sport safer.
“Regulation is a key part of the success of our company,” Epstein said. “We will not go to any jurisdiction that does not properly regulate this sport.”
Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore, the Conservative MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, told council that the federal government is “entirely supportive” of Vancouver sanctioning MMA events. Moore, who said he attended a UFC event in Montreal, called the UFC a “great company”.
“I think that hosting the UFC in 2010 is a really great opportunity for us that we should grab with both hands,” he said.
Moore noted the federal government has “no concerns” about the legality of MMA events.
“This is about embracing a sport that our constituents—yours and mine—have already embraced,” Moore said.
Harvey Jones, a vice president for Canucks Sports & Entertainment, which owns GM Place, said his company would make about as much of a profit from a UFC event as a large concert.
“There’s huge economic benefits for everybody—not just us, not just UFC,” Jones told council.
Joel Posluns, who runs an aikido dojo in North Vancouver, told council that allowing MMA events in Vancouver would damage the city’s positive brand. He asked council to declare the city a “UFC-free zone”.
“The fact that UFC hasn’t had a major incident yet—it’s only a matter of time,” Posluns said.
Iman Rahmim, an MMA instructor at Versus Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness in Vancouver, called the city a “hotbed for MMA talent”. But he told council the city hasn’t been getting anything out of this because it’s been “exporting” its fighters.
Rahmim called on the province to regulate MMA to “ensure the safety of the athletes and the growth of this sport”.
Council’s decision also means the Vancouver Athletic Commission’s seat tax will be increased from $0.10 per seat to $1 per seat for each contest or exhibition to cover increased administrative costs.
Promoters, organizers, and venue owners will be required to sign an indemnity agreement to protect the city and the commission.
Mayor Gregor Robertson will write to the provincial and federal governments to request “urgent clarification” of the laws surrounding the regulation of MMA.
Professional mixed martial arts events had been banned in Vancouver since September 2007.
The staff report prepared for today’s council meeting notes MMA is a sport that involves a variety of fighting techniques, including jujitsu, boxing, kick-boxing, and wrestling.
Athletic commissions in the provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Manitoba, as well as the cities of Calgary, Edmonton, Prince George, and Nanaimo, already regulate MMA events. The sport is banned in Ontario.
“Examining the experience of other jurisdictions and studies with respect to MMA, it is evident that there are both risks and benefits to allowing this combat sport in Vancouver,” the report states. “It is a sport that has grown tremendously in popularity in North America, and one that has the potential to bring economic benefits to Vancouver. A number of jurisdictions in Canada have allowed MMA and have experienced few problems with crowd and security issues.”
According to the staff report, a large MMA event at GM Place would generate about $1.5 million—and perhaps as much as $4.7 million—in “total incremental spending” across Metro Vancouver.
At one point during the meeting, Anton joked that council should have a “no timidity” rule like the UFC.
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