News / Edmonton

'It's going to affect all of us': Promoter says Edmonton combative sports ban will hurt community

City council banned combative sports like MMA and boxing after hearing an update on the death of Tim Hague.

Edmonton heavyweight Tim Hague poses at a weigh-in Portland, Ore. on Friday Aug. 28, 2009.

Neil Davidson / The Canadian Press

Edmonton heavyweight Tim Hague poses at a weigh-in Portland, Ore. on Friday Aug. 28, 2009.

Edmonton’s one-year combative sports ban will be a major hit to the local fighting community, from newcomers up to professional fighters, says one promoter.

In response to the June death of boxer Tim Hague, Edmonton city council announced Friday they will temporarily ban combative sports like martial arts and boxing.

Starting Saturday, the city stopped issuing new licences or event permits for combative sports, either until Dec. 31, 2018 or until council decides otherwise.

But promoter Melanie Lubovac, who is president of KO Boxing, calls it a “knee jerk” reaction that doesn’t account for the industry that depends on these fights.

“It’ll shut my business down, it’ll shut down plenty of gyms that have boxing, muay thai, wrestling, any type of mixed marital arts. It’ll affect every single one of my fighters,” she said. “It’s going to affect all of us.”

According to a release from the city, council passed the bylaw after hearing an update on the status of the third-party review into Hague's death. He died after a city-sanctioned boxing match in Edmonton on June 16.

City administration and the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission are expected to provide a report to council on Dec. 14 about the events that led to Hague’s death.

“We anticipate the release of the report into the tragic death of Mr. Hague and a continued conversation about the proper role of the municipality in the field of combative sports,” said Rob Smyth, deputy city manager of citizen services, in the release.

Lubovac calls Hague’s death “devastating,” but questions whether the moratorium is about safety.  

“I do believe that precautions and things have to be looked at, but then they should have done it right when it happened,” she said.

“They waited until the UFC left before they made this decision,” she added, referring to the high profile fights in September.  “I don’t think that’s fair.”

But in a statement, the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission said they respect council’s right to enact the moratorium.

“We will continue our work as a commission, using this time to move forward with the comprehensive policy review that had already been underway. We will work with city administration to advise council on a future path at the end of the moratorium.”

As it stands now, each municipality is responsible for forming their own regulatory body. At an Alberta Urban Municipalities Association conference in November of this year, a request was put forth to the provincial government to form a unified commission.

Lubovac said she doesn't mind if the commission is municipal or provincial, but added she doesn't think it's right to essentially stop the Edmonton body from overseeing fights in the meantime.

But Max Marin, owner of Canuckles Mixed Martial Arts in Calgary, and one of the first fighters to compete in MMA from Western Canada, said part of the problem is divisions within combative sporting organizations.

“There is no leadership in mixed martial arts, or boxing, or even wrestling. There is no unity. And that’s what leaves us vulnerable to things like this.”

Marin said that in comparison to sports like hockey and football, combative sports leagues don’t have the money or legal teams necessary to avoid what he calls “political scapegoating.

“There’s been no spike in deaths, but they’ve had to answer some questions in response to Tim Hague’s death.

“If we had unity like other sports, I think we’d have more voice in this.”

With files from Autumn Fox

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