Thursday, March 25, 2010

A fight over brawling

Recently the UFC has been trying to get permission to operate in Ontario.  For those unfamiliar, the UFC is a competitive sport organization that holds MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fights on a regular basis.  It has some resemblance to professional boxing but instead of padded gloves, fisticuffs and scoring it is pure bareknuckle fighting with lots of wrestling, twisting and kicking.

It is an interesting choice that the government faces.  First off the fact that both hockey fighting and boxing are legal in Ontario would suggest that there is a precedent for this sort of activity being sanctioned.  People are absolutely allowed to punch each other in the head for fun and profit so in order to continue the ban on MMA the government basically would need to believe that either boxing and hockey should in fact be banned or MMA is more violent or dangerous than hockey fights/boxing.

The government certainly seems unworried about boxing and hockey fighting and as for MMA being more dangerous, that is simply flat out false.  When the UFC first started up it was quite dangerous but a lot of new rules have been added over the years such that now it is safer than boxing.  There are still an awful lot of minor injuries like bruises, cuts, twists, strains and such but the number of really serious injuries is low when compared to the incredible brain damage most boxers suffer from before they retire.

Some part of me says that we should just let the violent musclebound brawlers do what they want and let people enjoy the show.  Another part of me says that braindamaged, violent people with shattered careers and no marketable skills are not something we want to create more of.  While there certainly are athletes that go into these sports with their eyes open and come out fine they are an awful lot of people that leave them broken in both mind and body.

One good question - is there actually a lot of difference between Olympic athletes in relatively dangerous sports like skiing and fighters in MMA leagues?  I remember seeing an interview with a moguls contender at the Olympics where she talked about everyone in her sport getting knee operations and suffering fairly substantial physical problems due to their competition.  Dying from downhill recreation is not at all unheard of - a luge competitor died during the Olympics itself and skiing is not risk free.  There is certainly a difference in that skiers don't actually injure each other but instead are injured by the terrain, but since the 'terrain' of a MMA fighting ring is extremely safe perhaps this doesn't matter.

While the fighting in MMA leagues may be troublesome ethically I don't think we can really support laws against it given the relative risks people assume in other pastimes.  People will continue to do foolish things in pursuit of the glory of athletic victory and people will also continue to pay to watch it and as long as the sport in question does a good job of trying to prevent accidents I don't see grounds for stopping it.

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