Irish neurologist pleads for regulation

Friday, April 14, 2017

Just over one year ago, Portugal’s Joao Carvalho became the last person to die in mixed martial arts. There is no government regulation of MMA in Ireland or the United Kingdom, so in 2012 SafeMMA was co-founded by Professor Dan Healy, a neurologist and consultant at Ireland’s Beaumont Hospital and the Royal College of Surgeons. The non-profit organization ensures that safety standards are upheld at MMA events.

The Total Extreme Fighting event at which Carvalho lost his life was the last MMA promotion held in Ireland without SafeMMA; every event since has.

However, Healy, along with SBGi founder John Kavanagh and retired women’s strawweight Aisling Daly, has spoken with the government Irish Sports Council about making MMA a recognized sport, so that the progress can be made permanent. At present all promoters use voluntarily use to the volunteer SafeMMA, but that is not guaranteed to last.

“I believe the standards that have been put in place in Ireland and that have been adopted by the MMA community have made it the safest country in the world to take part in this sport,” said Healy toMalachy Clerkin for The Irish Times. “This is not all down to SafeMMA. It would not have worked if it had been imposed on the sport. This works because the community itself embraced it.

“The safety standards that other countries insist upon for professional fighters are ones that are also applied to amateurs here – and there are more amateurs than professionals in sport.

“I want to be clear on the purpose of it all. Anyone who says MMA is a safe sport hasn’t seen MMA. It is not a safe sport – there are dangers with it, as there are with a lot of sports. The purpose of the pre-clearance SafeMMA standards is to minimize avoidable risk. It’s so that we don’t have a situation where we have someone who shouldn’t have been fighting and we only find out after the fact. The safety protocols are so that we know in advance.

“Once a fighter goes down, it’s a frightening thing that happens. Suddenly they are maybe seizing in the ring or they are unconscious. They need everything done for them, they need stretchers, they need oxygen. They need a tube put down to control their breathing.

“You need to make sure there are ambulances there, that they know their route, that there’s nothing blocking them, that Beaumont knows they are coming, that they can go straight into theatre. Every second counts in that situation and those pathways require a lot of planning in advance. Among other things, all of that is happening now.”

“My take on the situation is that one of two things needs to happen. Either the sport is banned, which is not my preferred option, or that the sport is governed, regulated and accountable like every other combat sport.

“Recognition would bring advantages for the sport in the shape of grants that might be used to take over what SafeMMA has been doing. That’s what I would like to see happen in the long run – relying on a volunteer project like this is not sustainable.

“But beyond the advantages, there are also responsibilities. Safety, monitoring fighters, rule changes, etc. At the moment, the sport doesn’t have either – not the benefits and not the responsibilities. And to me, that’s dangerous.

“There is no governance. There is no regulation. These are all self-imposed standards. And for longevity, I would suggest that there is a requirement for this to become part of a regulatory framework. It needs to be more than goodwill. Goodwill runs out. Now I think it’s time for systems to be put in place so that this can continue.

“It remains the case that everything that has been put in place at the moment has been done on a voluntary basis and perhaps not on a sustainable basis. The sport has done its part. In some ways, it has done what the government should be doing.

“Self-regulation is really important. But the difference is that other sports are at least recognized by government. What that means is that while they self-govern, they also have responsibilities to meet.”