Canadian city wants to ban MMA citing ‘secret’ organized crime ties

Friday, July 18, 2014

The city of Vernon, BC is seeking to ban mixed martial arts events, citing among things, ties to organized crime. However, town officials say they are not at liberty to share specifics.

Charlotte Helston has the story.

The City of Vernon wants to ban mixed martial arts (MMA) events because, as Coun. Bob Spiers put it, “the association with the type of people that run those events and the type of people that show up” and the potential liabilities. He also called MMA a “ridiculous sport.”

Mayor Rob Sawatzky gave two reasons for the ban: MMA endangers participants’ health and he cited “discussions over the last couple of years from the police informing us that there’s a very strong historical and well known relationship between mixed martial arts events and organized crime.”

“The first was a year ago with an organized crime specialist who came in to speak to us with lots of specific information, organized crime names, dates, specific involvements,” Sawatzky says.

The second presentation was a verbal update from the police. Sawatzky refused to say more because of “implications with informants and police.”

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The mixed martial arts community reacted with outrage.

Salmon Arm resident Brenda Davidson, whose son fights competitively, is outraged by the mayor’s remarks.

“His comments are uninformed and absolutely offensive. I’m associated, as is my son, and I’d say they are some of the finest professional athletes I’ve ever met,” Davidson says.
She’s attended numerous MMA events, from Penticton to Nanaimo, and says they have all been well organized, clean and safe. While there have been few, if any, MMA events held in Vernon or Kelowna in recent years, competitions have been popular in Penticton and Kamloops hosted an event without any issues just a few months ago.

“There’s no brawling, no drugs, I’ve never seen a fight in the stands, no derogatory comments being yelled,” Davidson says. “The men that go into the ring, it’s not about fighting unrefereed. It’s fierce combat with great bravery and courage and discipline. All the attributes I’ve seen are highly admirable as opposed to those of a politician.”

“My son loves what he does. He is super dedicated, eats clean, doesn’t drink or take drugs,” she says. “I have a friend whose son wanted to serve in Afghanistan, and people asked her how could you let him?”

Kelowna coach and owner of Toshido Mixed Martial Arts David Lea says the rules and regulations set out by the B.C. Athletic Commission make the fighter’s safety paramount.

“Literally a quick Google search shows MMA isn’t even in the top three or four sports for head injuries. Hockey and football outweigh MMA. These claims Vernon council is trying to make have already been looked at and debunked,” Lea says.

Lea coaches pro fighters Rory MacDonald and Sarah Moras, and teaches MMA to men, women, children and even RCMP officers. He says the sport is positive for both mind and body, involving hard work, perseverance, respect and focus.

“It’s not the sensationalized blood sport it was marketed as in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” Lea says.

Lea says the statement about MMA being connected to organized crime  is “nauseating” and insists Vernon council has no right, or grounds, to ban MMA events.

“When it comes down to it, members of the Vernon municipal government may not be fans of the sport and they’ve taken it upon themselves to make that decision for others,” Lea says.

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City staff is currently drafting a bylaw to prohibit MMA events for council’s consideration.