What is the standard of care for licensing fighters after they’ve ‘recovered’ from COVID-19?
From the desk of Erik Magraken
Regulators around Canada and the United States are grappling with the resumption of combat sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some jurisdictions such as Nevada and California have taken the lead with new standards for fights during this time. Others are in the process of revising their protocols. This has proven challenging enough. Over and above this, a new issue regulators will likely need to address is whether increased licensing standards will be needed for fighters who have previously been diagnosed with the virus.
The medical community continues to learn more about the disease. One recent study revealed that a surprisingly high number of recovered Covid-19 patients have ongoing myocardial inflammation. This was so “independent of preexisting conditions, severity and overall course of the acute illness, and the time from the original diagnosis.“
If a “recovered” athlete has an inflamed heart muscle, is it safe for them to compete in combative sports? They may have this condition without even knowing it. Do regulators need to re-evaluate their licensing standards to address this new reality? Do they need to explore if an athlete who previously had COVID-19 currently has Myocarditis or can they rely on their old licensing standards and nothing more?
This is a shifting landscape with no universal set standard in place. If an athlete with post-COVID myocarditis is licensed and suffers injury or death as a result of the disease, litigation may follow where courts would grapple with what standard of care should have been met.
As reporter Trent Reinsmith opined, further testing may be prudent. I reached out to various stakeholders in the industry to canvass what steps, if any, are in place to address this situation.
One prominent MMA manager replied that he managed a fighter who previously tested positive for COVID-19 and before resuming competition with the UFC the promotion required that athlete to undergo “Troponin 1 blood work, new EKG and 2D Echocardiogram.“ The manager could not say whether this was an across the board policy of the promotion or something they only required for this specific athlete. Another prominent manager advised that the UFC “hasn’t required” such additional testing across the board for athletes he managed who previously had the virus.
I reached out to the promotion themselves who, as of yet, have not replied to my inquiry as to what additional testing, if any, they require for athletes who previously tested positive for COVID-19.
Andy Foster of the California State Athletic Commission advises that, “We have not added any additional testing at this time. We all are continuing to learn more about the long term effects of this virus and as we all learn regulations may be updated if necessary. In short, we haven’t yet, but it is never ruled out depending on what we learn.”
I also reached out to the Nevada Athletic Commission and the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation for their comments. I will update this article if/when they reply.
Lastly, I reached out to the Association of Ringside Physicians. They advise that “The ARP does not have any recommendations at this time” however note that their organization “will certainly start to look into” this developing issue.
As more is learned about the consequences of COVID-19, the combat sports regulatory framework will need to continue to adapt their standards. Depending on the jurisdiction (as legal standards vary from State to State and Province to Province), regulators, or promoters who self regulate, may be exposed to negligence claims if they allow a fighter to be licensed without any consideration to whether further investigation is needed to ensure a COVID-19 ‘recovered’ athlete is fit for competition.
If you are interested in more information on athletes returning to sport and heart risk after Covid-19 I highly recommend this podcast with host Dr. Devin McFadden, MD, and renowned experts on Sports Cardiology, Dr. Jonathan Drezner and Dr. Michael Ackerman addressing the following topics:
- What is COVID myocarditis and why is it so concerning?
- How strong is the link between COVID-19 and was this a driving factor in the cancelling of the FALL sports season by some collegiate conferences?
- What metrics need to be satisfied in order to safely return to play, and will that occur this year.
- Health and Well Being Considerations for PAC-12 Institutions: Guidance for Local Planning for Return to Sporting Activity