I’m not a fan of MMA. In fact I dislike the sport. I find the grappling boring and I don’t really enjoy violence. So I do what any rational person should do about a sport they don’t like: I poke fun at it on twitter and I ignore it on TV.
On Tuesday, a young man lost his life due to injuries sustained in his MMA fight in Dublin. It’s tragic when anyone dies, but it always seems worse when it’s a presumably fit and healthy sportsman or woman. Regardless, the reaction to that horrible event by some quarters in Irish media has been nothing short of disgraceful.
Seasoned sportswriters have let loose on MMA and there have been several calls for it to be banned. The “it’s not a sport” trope got another airing this week across everyone’s social media feeds.
The problem here is that MMA isn’t going away. Johnny Watterson’s “Popularity of MMA no defence for legal killing” may be wrong about the defence bit (I certainly haven’t read/heard anybody use that) but he’s spot on about the popularity. The rise of the sport here in Ireland, and worldwide, means any attempts to ban it here are futile.
I read a lot of sports writers and columnists on MMA. The people calling for it to be banned now have hated the sport for a while. Nearly all of them seem to like rugby or boxing. A 2006 study by the John Hopkins University School of Medicine. They concluded:
The overall injury rate in MMA competitions is now similar to other combat sports, including boxing. Knockout rates are lower in MMA competitions than in boxing. This suggests a reduced risk of TBI in MMA competitions when compared to other events involving striking.
Can you imagine the reaction in this country if there were serious calls to ban boxing? In a nation that rightly lauds our amateur and professional champions? The argument would be dismissed immediately, probably made fun of, but here’s a medical study from one of America's leading medical universities saying that boxing is more likely to cause “TBI” (traumatic brain injury).
There are two arguments I’ve seen against MMA. They are:
- It’s too violent.
Watterson argues that allowing a man to be punched repeatedly for 28 seconds crosses the line. I agree. The problem here isn’t with MMA, it’s with referees and administration. There’s no way that amount of punishment should be allowed; Conor McGregor said as much after the fight. That’s an argument for stronger regulations and better enforcement rather than banning a sport entirely.
2. It’s a bad example for kids
This is the weakest argument possible. Kids that watch MMA, either in person or on TV, do so because their parents allow them to. The “won’t somebody think of the children” argument can nearly always be dismissed as nannystate-ism gone wrong.
There are definitely problems with MMA in Ireland. The recent comments by John Tracey on why Sport Ireland can't recognise MMA are completely understandable. If a united MMA organisation existed in Ireland we probably wouldn't be left with this silence from the MMA community about the tragic loss of life over the weekend. It might also help ensure safety and medical standards at each event are uniform and of the highest standard. All of these are common sense moves. I fully expect that as MMA continues to grow here, the sport will become better regulated.
However better regulations and proper enforcement are a world away from banning a sport. A sport that is no greater threat to life than any other contact sport, including our beloved boxing (yes, I'm a boxing fan). It appears to me that people are calling for MMA to be banned solely because they don't like it.
Do we really want to live in a country that bans sports because some people don't like it?