Edmonton

'We're definitely on the right path': City lifts ban on combative sports

Edmonton city council voted unanimously Tuesday to lift a citywide ban on combative sports that's been in place for almost three months.

Athletes, promoters say news is a relief, but ban wasn't necessary in the first place

Mayor Don Iveson said the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission has already made key policy changes recommended by the report. (CBC)

Edmonton city council voted unanimously Tuesday to lift a citywide ban on combative sports that has been in place for almost three months. 

The ban had been in place since Dec. 9, after a report released by MNP Consulting showed many policies weren't followed on the June night when fighter Tim Hague suffered a fatal knockout during a boxing match in Edmonton. The report included 18 recommendations to improve fighter safety.

"We've made substantial progress to implement the recommendations from the independent review after Mr. Hague's death," Mayor Don Iveson said Tuesday. 

"There's more work to do, but we're definitely on the right path. So council obviously felt confident to be able to remove the moratorium and allow the industry to recommence in a safer fashion."

Iveson said the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission has already made key policy changes. Bylaw changes still need to be written and will come back to council in a couple months, he said.

Administration will present an update on the implementation of the report's recommendations to a community and public services committee meeting in May. 

Tim Hague suffered a fatal knockout in June during a boxing match in Edmonton. (Facebook)

'I was going to fight somewhere else'

The ban was widely condemned by fighters and promoters, who said it hurt their livelihoods.

Eight-time world boxing champion Jelena Mrdjenovich called the ban a "knee-jerk reaction." On Tuesday, she said she was glad to hear it had been lifted. 

"The fact that they're lifting this is a relief," she said. "But it still kind of ticks you off that people who know nothing about what you do have that much of an effect over your life and your livelihood, and how you support yourself."

Mrdjenovich is required to defend her world title each year before July and said the ban delayed her training and the fight schedule. Her next fight — her 50th — is scheduled for April.

"I've been extremely supportive of this city and been extremely proud to be an Edmontonian, and this is why I wanted to have my 50th fight here in Edmonton," she said.

"But if I had to, I was going to fight somewhere else. Because at the end of the day, what I've learned from this experience is that no one looks out for you. Even when you thought someone had your back, or your city had your back, at the end of the day there's only you."

Melanie Lubovac, president of the promotion company KO Boxing, said she is also relieved the ban has been lifted. Lubovac said she has been working with the commission to see how the report's recommendations could be implemented.

"Once we did that, council seemed to be happy with the decisions and the changes that were made, and I knew that they would probably lift it," she said.

Lubovac said the ban affected training schedules and delayed fights. She said she hopes there will be better communication between the city and the industry before future decisions are made that impact so many people. 

"It was a ban that should have never happened," Lubovac said. "I just think it was something that dragged on and caused a lot of headaches for no reason."