Medical advice to MPs: don't legalize mixed martial arts

Canadian Medical Association president Anna Reid is warning MPs about the dangers of legitimizing mixed martial arts bouts.

Canadian Medical Association warns against bill revising 'prize fights' section of Criminal Code

Tom Wright, the director of Canadian operations for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, spoke to Heritage Minister James Moore and Senator Bob Runciman before testifying before a Senate committee studying Runciman's bill in support of mixed martial arts last May. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The president of the Canadian Medical Association is warning MPs about the dangers of legitimizing mixed martial arts bouts.

Dr. Anna Reid appeared before the Commons justice committee which is studying legislation that would bring combat sports, including mixed martial arts, under supervision and regulation.

The Senate bill, introduced by Ontario Conservative Senator Bob Runciman a year ago, would amend the 80-year-old Criminal Code to change the definition of prize fights to include things like UFC-sanctioned bouts. 

Combat sports are currently in a sort of legal limbo in that they technically may be illegal under the law, but are condoned.

Supporters of the bill say it will promote safer practices in mixed martial arts, a popular — if often bloody — contest.

Reid says this kind of combat fighting is dangerous and often produces serious head injuries.

The association's general council voted in 2010 for a ban on mixed martial arts prize fighting matches.

Legalizing sport a 'choice between money and health'

The present legislation passed the Senate with broad support and a similar bill had strong support in the Commons before it died due to prorogation.

Reid says the doctors don't oppose combat sports such as judo and karate.

Heritage Minister James Moore, second from left and Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, right, met with Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters Yves Jabouin, left, and Mark Hominick, when they were on Parliament Hill to lobby in support of mixed martial arts in 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"However, cage fighting, like boxing, is distinct from many other sports, in that the basic intent of the fighter is to cause harm in order to incapacitate his or her opponent," she said.

"And an activity in which the overriding goal is to pummel one's opponent into submission does not promote good health."

She said there is little evidence about the long-term risks from this kind of fighting, but noted studies show boxing poses risks of head trauma and subsequent neurological problems.

"For parliamentarians, and for society, the question of whether to legalize MMA under the Criminal Code therefore comes down to a choice: a choice between money and health."

She said it is her duty to protect the health of patients and to promote non-harmful activities and it is the mandate of the CMA to advocate for the highest standards of health and health care.

"For me, as a physician, it is about putting health first. I cannot condone punches to the head."

with files from CBC News