After boxer's death, Edmonton mayor calls for provincial regulation of combative sports

As controversy continues to swirl around the death of boxer Tim Hague, Edmonton’s mayor wants to sever the city’s regulatory responsibilities for combative sports.

'I don't want the City of Edmonton to regulate this industry anymore,' Don Iveson says

Tim Hague was a teacher at Ecole Bellevue School in Beaumont, Alta. (Facebook)

As controversy continues to swirl around the death of boxer Tim Hague, Edmonton's mayor wants the provincial government to take over regulatory responsibility for combative sports in the city.

Don Iveson said the city began lobbying the NDP government to regulate the industry with a "single, unified, provincial commission" long before Hague's death last month.

"At this point, I don't want the City of Edmonton to regulate this industry anymore. I think that is the position of our council," Iveson said Thursday on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

'These are life and death issues'

"These are life and death issues and it's very, very complicated," Iveson said. "So we have asked the provincial government ... to establish a provincial regulatory mechanism for combative sports.

"I'm not comfortable with the City of Edmonton having jurisdiction."

Currently, the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission, a civic agency, controls and regulates all professional combative sports in the city.

Hague, 34, died June 18, two days after he was knocked unconscious during a boxing match against former Edmonton Eskimos player Adam Braidwood at the Shaw Conference Centre.

The following day, the city announced it would hire an outside party to review the circumstances surrounding the death of Hague, a former mixed martial arts fighter. 

Alberta is one of the few provinces that has not created a provincial regulatory body for combative sports. There is no national governing body for the industry.

Instead, individual municipalities must draft bylaws and ensure compliance within their own jurisdictions. In Alberta, combative sports commissions have also been established in Calgary, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray, Lloydminster, Grande Prairie, Taber, Cold Lake and Penhold. 

But many of the communities are ill-equipped to handle these responsibilities, Iveson said.

Edmonton has been working closely with other municipalities to pressure the provincial government to create a governing body and streamline the hodgepodge of conflicting regulations.

'This is very, very difficult work' 

Iveson reiterated his position to his council colleagues in a letter dated June 7, 11 days before Hague's death.

Co-signed by Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer, the letter argues that standardized regulations would ensure fighter safety while eliminating the growing cost of operating multiple commissions.

"In no other province in this country is it left to local government to do this, and it's even harder for a midsize or smaller municipality which has the opportunity to host an event like this," Iveson told CBC.

"Like every other province in the country, it's time for the government of Alberta to take responsibility for regulating these industries, because I think this is very, very difficult work and I would like the staff and the leadership of the City of Edmonton to focus on other issues."

During the fatal match, Braidwood knocked down Hague four times in less than two rounds.

In the second round, a left uppercut put Hague on the canvas, unconscious. Hague was transported to hospital in critical condition. The father and schoolteacher died of a traumatic brain injury.

Hague had a history of concussion, and critics have suggested that he should have never been allowed to fight.

Family deserves answers

His family deserves answers, said Iveson.

"When something like this happens, clearly it needs to be independently evaluated," said Iveson. "An independent review is what Mr. Hague and his family are owed."

Veer echoed Iveson's concerns.

Red Deer has no combative sports commission leaving little to no regulation of matches hosted by private companies across central Alberta, she said.

The lack of consistent oversight is a growing concern for centres across Alberta, Veer said.

A majority of municipalities represented at an Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention in 2013 voted to lobby for a single commission.

The AUMA motion was presented by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which established its own commission earlier that year against the advice of its own administration.

"This has been an ongoing discussion among the major urban centres in Alberta, because that's where the events are occurring," Veer said.

"It is becoming more popular as a sport which is all that much more of an impetus for the provincial government to take a serious look at the oversight."

Minister of Culture and Tourism Ricardo Miranda was not made available for an interview with CBC, but his press secretary Marion Nader provided a brief statement by email that did not answer whether Alberta is considering instituting a provincial combative sports commission. 

Nader later followed up with another written statement stating that not all municipalities agree that a provincial commission is needed. 

Edmonton and Red Deer are trying to get other municipalities to agree and the province looks forward to hearing back from them, the statement added.