Irish MMA’s Road to Regulation

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

The tragic passing of Portuguese MMA fighter Joao Carvalho in Dublin on Monday has led to a massive outcry for the regulation of mixed martial arts in Ireland.

On Wednesday, Ireland’s Minster of State Tourism and Sport Michael Ring made a pledge to regulate MMA in Ireland and today IMMAF have released a call to action, which they hope will bring about the recognition of the sport on the Emerald Isle.

Currently, there is no governing body for professional MMA in Ireland, but the Irish Amateur Pankration Association (IAPA) oversees the amateur sport in the country. To gain the IAPA’s approval, events must have a full medical staff and an on-site trauma room to cater for any medical issues with competitors. To add to that, IAPA registered fighters get full medicals and blood work done to safeguard amateur participants in the sport.

In terms of the professional sport, gaining SAFE MMA approval is encouraged for both promoters and fighters. However, due to the absence of any governing body, there is nothing in place to stop any events that have no gained such verification.

At present, the Irish Sports Council does not recognize mixed martial arts, which forced the IAPA to use the term ‘Pankration’ in their association title. Constituted under the IAWA (Irish Wrestling Association), IAPA have absolutely no authority when it comes to professional bouts.

Sport Ireland released a statement on Wednesday, which outlined the criteria for establishing a governing body.

Without going into huge detail the applicant should be able to demonstrate that it is a functioning corporate body (M & As, audited accounts, functioning board etc), is affiliated with a relevant international organization, is operating as the governing authority with rules etc and has clubs and memberships around the country.

Speaking today, IMMAF President Kerrith Brown claimed that he believes IAPA meet all of the criteria.

“They meet those criteria and more”, said Brown. “The biggest sports star in the country is Conor McGregor. IAPA are members of IMMAF. They do have high standards when it comes to medical support and care of the athletes.

“They are supported by Professor Dan Healy and he has helped to set the bar very high. The bar is set a lot higher there than in the majority of other places where MMA events are taking place. They are ticking the majority of the boxes.”

As Brown also pointed out, the trouble that some governments have with establishing a governing body comes down IMMAF affiliations, or lack there of.

“The problem they are having, and it’s a problem that a lot of our federations have, is when they are asked which international body they belong to they say IMMAF. We are still fighting to get recognition from IOC, from SportAccord and we are trying to become signatories to the WADA code. We tick all the boxes too, but there is still a reluctance to engage with the sport at every level.”

The professional sport is now at a crossroads on the Emerald Isle. Without a proper governing body established there is no way of safeguarding professional fighters in the country. Despite the death of Carvalho on Monday night, another MMA event is taking place tonight in the Irish capital. Like TEF 1, the event that Carvalho competed in last Saturday, the event is not SAFE MMA approved nor does it have the backing of the IAPA.

In terms of creating a government body, IMMAF CEO Densign White believes that the Irish government can recognize and regulate mixed martial arts “in an instant”.

“It’s up to the politicians and it’s up to the government,” said White. “They can make this happen in an instant. All they have to do is make the decision to recognize the IAPA and the job is done. They can pass a law that doesn’t allow MMA to take place outside of IAPA’s jurisdiction. That will include professionals too, not just amateur events.

“The Sports Council can allow IAPA to become a sanctioning body. For example, when UFC go to Sweden, the Swedish federation sanctions their events. The same would apply to UFC coming to Ireland if the Sports Council makes the IAPA the sanctioning body.”

Due to the gravity of the situation, and Minister Ring’s admission that he is “not a fan of the sport”, Irish MMA might still be a long way from gaining recognition and a establishing a governing body. To establish such a body can take a number of years in Ireland.

The lack of regulation is not unique to Ireland, but given Carvalho’s death, there is a massive spotlight on the national sport. As rare as the incident involving Carvalho is to MMA, to allow the sport to continue in the same vein is allowing for the same kind of situation to occur again. The scene desperately needs safeguards to established for the professional sport, but for now, Irish MMA remains in limbo. 


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