Thoughts on The Year Ahead

This time last week I was in the line of fire for having questioned this sport and suggested we might be wise to ban it in this country. I’ve come a long way in terms of my knowledge of the sport since then. While I have read, and watched, and learned a lot about MMA and UFC since my original remarks, I am mostly here today to listen. I’m interested to hear from the various medical experts on a lot of topics that make frightening reading. I might briefly outline a little of what I’ve learned in the last two weeks.

There seems to be little question that at the professional level, the highest standards are applied and every attempt is made to protect fighters from serious harm where possible. However, at a more amateur level, which is from what I understand is most common in Ireland, this is not necessarily the case, where amateur fights may not necessarily have the medical backup that is required in order to ensure a safe fighting environment. I have spoken to Professor Healy about this topic and he’s informed me of the need for an improvement and perhaps regulations when it comes to safety. In this sense, I haven’t 100% deviated from my original view of the sport though, on reflection, I would accept that UFC have advanced rules, procedures and techniques to deal with concussions and injuries and that it certainly has evolved from, say, 15 years ago in this respect.

However, if we look at the headings of this Conference – broken bones in MMA, how the brain can be damaged in a fight, performance enhancing drugs in MMA – we have to ask ourselves: would these topics be necessary if we had reached the safest point possible? Injuries happen in all sports, of this there’s no doubt and as has been pointed out, injuries happen in often in other high-impact sports such as boxing and rugby, there is no question that rugby has evolved in recent years to ensure that the risk of brain injury is minimised.

In this sense, even soccer has a way to go to catch up – concussions are a regular part of the game, yet players are often allowed, and sometimes even told, to play on through it. Nevertheless, while some sports have worked to rule out these injuries in all codes and levels, MMA still has some way to go based on the topics being discussed here today.

Nevertheless, my point is that: no sport is perfect in this respect, not least MMA, though perhaps I was a little premature in singling this sport out. Yes, there have been advances and regulations put in place over the last two decades at all levels, and I commend these. However, it’s clear that, while there’s a lot done, there’s clearly a lot more to do and I would be delighted to get involved to do what I can at a political level to improve the status of the sport and more. Importantly the safety standards in the sport which will hopefully be to the benefit of everyone involved with the sport.

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