Industry members express concern over combative sports ban at fight regulator meeting

The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission says it will support the continuation of a year-long moratorium on fights while the city investigates allegations of health and safety violations within the industry.

'What you don't understand is how many people this has affected,' president of local boxing club says

The City of Edmonton issued a temporary ban on any combative sports until at least Dec. 31, 2018. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission says it will support the continuation of a year-long moratorium on fights while the city investigates allegations of health and safety violations within the industry. 

A lengthy meeting Monday night was the first held since an independent, third-party report was released Thursday. It delves into the death of boxer Tim Hague and found some ECSC policies were not followed for the knockout heavyweight boxing match against Adam Braidwood on June 16 at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre. Hague died in hospital two days later.

The fight regulator is encouraging city council to quickly investigate allegations in the report of safety loopholes in the industry. Earlier this month, council placed a year-long ban on issuing new licenses or event permits for combative sports.

The report by advisory firm MNP LLP makes 18 recommendations, calls for tougher rules around medical suspensions for fighters and recommends a provincial commission be set up to oversee combative sports.

"When it comes down to competitor safety, you want to take the most stringent response possible," ECSC chair Steven Phipps said at the meeting.

"If the purpose is to impose a medical suspension for the competitor's safety, it really shouldn't matter how they incurred that head injury."

The report was not disclosed in full to the commission last week because parts were redacted under freedom of information laws, Phipps said. With information missing, he said the commission is unable to conduct thorough reviews into its policies for health and safety.  

The information available from the report concluded that doctors are making their own calls at the ringside into a fighter's health instead of following the commission's rules for appropriate medical suspension.

Steven Phipps, chair of the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, said the commission was blindsided by city council's decision to impose a moratorium on combative sports two weeks ago. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Medical suspensions are mandatory under the commission so combatants can rest and recover after intensive fights. A boxer who has suffered two knockout punches to the head in a six month period is banned from fighting for at least 180 days, according to the commission's rules.

The chief medical officer, weigh-in physician and ringside physician present at Edmonton combative sporting events are not provided with fight and medical suspension history when evaluating a fighter, the report found.

Before Hague fought for the last time, he lost two out of three boxing matches. One of them was in a technical knockout in April.

Commission 'taking punches' for city council

Six people from Edmonton's boxing, martial arts and pro-wrestling communities, including promoters, past fighters and sports entertainers, used Monday's meeting as an opportunity air their grievances with the moratorium on combative sports.

Melanie Lubovac, president of KO Boxing, was the first to take a swing.

"What you don't understand is how many people this has affected," she said at the meeting. "It's not the 4, 8, 10 people … there's hundreds."

Melanie Lubovac, president of KO Boxing, says the moratorium has consequences for hundreds of people. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

United MMA promoter Sunny Sareen said the ban is already affecting fighters based in Edmonton. Some of them have already left town to continue training for their careers elsewhere. 

Phipps empathized with the promoters. He said the commission was not responsible for the moratorium and was in fact "blindsided" by the decision two weeks ago.

The ECSC is comprised of volunteers that are appointed to their roles by city council. They come from a variety of backgrounds including law, governance and finance, he said.

"I'm sure it's not easy for these commission members to sit up here, as volunteers, and take punches for city council — no pun intended," he said.

Phipps took half an hour to distinguish the roles of the commission, city council and the executive director in regulating combative sports in Edmonton.

"I could tell there was an element of frustration in their voices but that's another reason to make it clear to them what the commission can and can't do," he said. "If we have to be a sounding board, fair enough." 

Industry members and the public will have a chance to address the city at its community services committee meeting on January 17.