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Victor Pellissier
Focus | 17 avril

Is MMA really dangerous to people’s health?
Cage fights are allowed everywhere in the world, except in France. Why is there no use in forbidding them.

 © DR
On the 9th of July, Connor Mc Gregor, the Irish MMA superstar, will take revenge on the American Nate Diaz, as it was announced by the Ultimate Fighting Competition, the Mixed martial arts organization, last Thursday. The fans are looking to this fight, after the defeat of the first one facing the second one in early March.
This event will be the 363th organized in the world by the UFC, and yet the organization of Mixed martial art (MMA) competitions is still prohibited in France. The longevity and exponential popularity of this sport abroad does not make any difference, the practice for competition remains judicially limited. However, the debate on a possible authorization seems to emerge.

An isolated interdiction in Europe, and contested justifications

MMA is not explicitly forbidden by French laws. But public authorities base their position on a 1999 Council of Europe recommendation advising the member states to prohibit cage sports. As for Thierry Braillard, Sport State Secretary, he considers MMA events illegal because they allegedly violate human dignity.
And according to him, “there is a law in sport code that prohibits any gala in which there is any prejudice on health of human dignity.” So the legal prohibition seems to be a matter of text interpretation rather than an absolute judicial incompatibility. Many countries have thus chosen a much more permissive interpretation. Indeed, MMA competitions are allowed in each neighboring country (Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Switzerland…) making France the only big country where they are illegal.
The two main reproaches made by French authorities are the cage surrounding the ring, and ground punches. For the first point, the vision of the Council of Europe and of Thierry Braillard (who considers that the cage brings us back to “circus games”) is outdated. First of all, from a legal point of view, the Council of Europe’s recommendation is obsolete as it falsely considers MMA an activity with no “appropriate rule” and reproaches it for unjustified facts such as “danger for the spectators” or for facts existing in other sports, “notably gambling”.
There is a real gap between the authorities’ vision and the reality of sport in France. Where UFC cages are considered violations of human dignity, some events of fighting sports are provided with particular rings. Yet, is there an obvious difference in human dignity violation between the two arenas?
Regarding the ground punches, the argument is legitimate. Some experts, like Jean-François Chermann, neurologist specialized in athletes’ concussions, stress the fact that MMA is “a trauma-causing sport in which one can get concussions, […] and repeated concussions are not good for the brain, you might have to face the consequences”..
Two answers are given by MMA fans. First of all, there is no proven link between ground punches and concussions. For some athletes, unlike what a non-initiated audience might think, a ground fighter is potentially as much protected as a standing fighter thanks to MMA techniques. There is so far no figures proving that concussions occur more often on the ground or when standing. Besides, the fear of concussions crosses sports’ borders, and the problem is equally important with rugby or American football. So this should not cause the discriminative prohibition of one sport but not the other.
 © DR
 © DR

Possibly considerable fallout

If the debate is so heated, it is because positive consequences would come with a possible legalization of competitions. The main one would be economic. MMA is an extremely popular sport and France won’t escape it. The UFC, the most prestigious league, has now become a genuine transnational firm. With 20 million likes on Facebook, the brand has more subscribers than traditional American baseball and football leagues put together.
Since the phenomenon became international, the UFC has already organized many events all over the world. These events gather everywhere dozens of thousands of fans while the numbers of pay-per-view are booming with a record of over 36 million viewers. Thanks to this popularity, the UFC made over 500 million dollars of benefits in 2014. After Mexico, Australia, South Korea, Poland, Scotland and Ireland, the UFC announced the organization of fight in Zagreb, Croatia, on the 10th of April and at Rotterdam, Netherlands, on the 8th of May, a proof of its success in Europe. It is a shame that France is the last European country to renounce to these events and their economic fallout for outdated considerations.
The status quo has to evolve. If the economic reason is not enough, authorities must protect the French practicing members. Only authorized to train, they have to exile in countries with sometimes loose regulations to fight while others benefit from the system’s flaws to organize underground fights. A beginning of inflexion of the law might be engaged, as the Paris Winter Circus organized the first authorized gala in France last November. Nevertheless, this gala was made possible not by an explicit authorization but by the administration’s passivity. It was harshly criticized by Thierry Braillard and it is not yet considered jurisprudential.
Victor Pellissier
Après avoir étudié le droit économique à Sciences Po Paris, Victor a finalement choisi de ne pas passer le barreau pour se consacrer à sa passion : le sport. Il se spécialise alors en management du sport. Passionné de football, il supporte l’OL et traîne sa carcasse sur les terrains de la capitale.
Crédits photo : DR
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