Island Inferno may never return to P.E.I., organizers said this weekend after officials shut down the kickboxing event this weekend.
Muzammal Nawaz, president of Kickboxing Canada, said the event had been held for six years without issue. Island Inferno 7 was scheduled for Saturday, with 24 fighters from P.E.I., Nova Scotia, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador competing in 12 bouts.
"I'm still in shock. In the 30 years I've been involved in this sport I've never had government and police walk into a sanctioned event and basically state that they’re going to arrest anybody involved in the event,” he said Saturday.
He said bill S-209 might be behind the surprise ban. It became law this year. It amended the definition of prize fights to include mixed-martial arts and other combat sports involving striking with the feet. He said sanctioned, amateur events should not be affected by the law.
'We were called into the weigh-in room and told if the event went ahead, we would all get arrested.' - Kickboxer Stephen Oates
He learned of the decision while flying in Friday. He spoke to the association’s lawyers and they agreed the event was legal. Kickboxing Canada won't approve another P.E.I. event until the government clarifies its stance, he said.
"For the government in P.E.I. and the city to just step right in and shut it down with no consultation, no discussion, on a Friday night at the eleventh hour? I've only seen that happen in Third World countries" he said. "I'm devastated."
He said P.E.I. should have raised the issue months ago as they prepared for the event.
Mark MacKinnon, president of Kickboxing P.E.I., said the province told him Friday afternoon that the event was unsanctioned and therefore illegal. He consulted with lawyers who felt it was a legal event and he decided to go ahead with.
"We felt that we had grounds to continue, that the province has misinterpreted the law," he said.
But when police showed up, MacKinnon cancelled the event.
Kickboxers Stephanie Flemming and Jamie Collins of Newfoundland and Labrador flew in to compete.
"We're extremely disappointed and surprised. For a fully functioning event that's run by professionals to be cancelled for such a silly reason, it's very disappointing," Flemming said. "We put so much time and money to come to this event. It's just shocking."
Collins said they found out two hours before the event. "We put so much into it. We sacrifice a lot to train hard and to fight. We spent a lot of money to come here," she said. "It's really disappointing to come all this way and you get sent home without a fight."
Stephen Oates, also from Newfoundland, said the event had been held six times and didn't have a history of legal issues or injuries.
He, too, was upset by the wasted time and money.
"We were called into the weigh-in room and we were told that if we went ahead, we would all get arrested, as would the promoter,” he said.
Police defend decision
Sgt. Walter Vessey of the Charlottetown Police said the issue was brought to the attention of the police on Friday. Organizers then scrambled to get approval, but cancelled the event Saturday.
Officers told the promoter it was an unsanctioned event and it could not go ahead. Vessey said it was in violation of Section 83 of the Criminal Code, which governs prize fights. He did not elaborate.
The Department of Health said the recent change in federal legislation meant the province could not sanction the event.