August 30, 2017 7:30 pm

Death of Edmonton boxer shines light on lack of provincial body overseeing combative sports

WATCH ABOVE: Last week, the City of Edmonton announced it found a firm to review the boxing match that left fighter Tim Hague dead. The tragedy raised bigger questions about how combative sports are run in Alberta. Julia Wong takes a look.

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The merits of a provincial body overseeing athletic events, such as boxing and wrestling, in Alberta are being weighed after the death of Tim Hague.

Hague, 34, was fighting at a KO Boxing event at the Shaw Conference Centre on June 16 when he lost the fight by a knockout.

READ MORE: Family and friends celebrate the life of boxer Tim Hague

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Hague, originally from Boyle, Alta., was able to walk out of the match on his own, but was later taken to hospital in critical condition. He passed away two days later.

“This was the worst thing that our family has even been through,” Jackie Neil, Hauge’s sister, said.

Hague, a teacher, balanced his job with fighting – he was involved in mixed martial arts and fought in the UFC before moving into the boxing ring.

Neil said the family was not worried when he initially started fighting approximately 10 years ago.

“We didn’t really see a lot of the danger in it. It was a hobby. It was something fun for him to do. It kept him fit. It kept him busy. It didn’t really concern us back then,” she said.

READ MORE: Opponent speaks out after boxer Tim Hague dies following weekend fight

But more recently, concern started to seep in.

“It’s been the last few years – when he started getting more concussions, taking more blows. He wasn’t winning as many fights,” Neil said.

Municipal, not provincial, commissions in Alberta

In Alberta, combative sports are overseen by municipal commissions rather than a provincial commission. The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission oversees regulations, the conduct of contests, credentials for officials, as well as sanctions.

However, provinces such as B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario all use provincial athletics commissions.

Joel Fingard, the executive director of the Manitoba Combative Sports Commission and the chairperson of the Canadian Committee of Combative Sports Commission, said that in his experience, municipal commissions “are more often unsuccessful.”

“Often, municipal commissions have neither the expertise nor the adequate resources to fulfill the full scope of regulatory oversight required,” he said.

“Provincial commissions typically have a higher level of oversight and accountability, as they are the single point of contact for an entire province, and draw from larger human and financial resource pools, both of which are essential to properly ensuring the fundamental health and safety functions of combative sports regulation.”

Fingard further elaborates that a provincial commission ensures consistent regulation across the jurisdiction and centralize information related to athlete background checks.

He said that ensures “consistent and focused attention paid to athlete medical records, suspensions etc., which ensure a higher rate of athlete safety at the point of matchmaking.”

READ MORE: Edmonton mayor pursues new approach to oversee combative sports

The B.C. Athletic Commission was created on May 30, 2013 to regulate professional boxing and MMA. Prior to that, municipalities had independent commissions to oversee combative sports.

A spokesperson for the B.C. Athletic Commissioner said the creation of the provincial body has established coherent regulation and implemented an enforcement program to “protect the health and safety of contestants, ensure the integrity of all relevant contests and screen and assess all officials.”

‘A kingdom unto themselves’

Lawyer Erik Magreken deals with combative sports regulatory issues. He said strong leadership is ultimately the most important thing.

Magreken, who calls Alberta an “outlier” province for not having a provincial commission, said good rules and regulations keep fighter safety in mind.

“To that end, if you have one province-wide commission that’s doing a good job, that’s obviously preferable to having a host of municipal commissions. If you have one provincial commission that’s doing a lousy job, that’s bad province-wide… competence is the most important factor,” he said.

“If Alberta is going to capably regulative combative sports, they need good people on multiple commissions, and that’s much tougher to do than to man a single commission with qualified individuals.”

READ MORE: Alberta mayors pushed for provincial MMA commission days before Tim Hague’s death

Magreken said the municipal model means that “each city is basically a kingdom unto themselves” when it comes to combative sports.

“They write their own rules and regulations in terms of how the sports are regulated. They create their own safety thresholds so it could really vary from one city to another,” he said.

Calls for action over the years

The call for a provincial commission is not new.

In 2013, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo produced a report as it created its combative sports commission bylaw.

“Many [municipalities] face ongoing risk and compliance challenges in the operation of these commission,” the report reads. “The creation of a provincial commission would be preferable in order to ensure standardized rules and procedures reflecting best practices are implemented consistently throughout Alberta on such issues as testing and athlete suspensions.”

A second report from the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission in 2013 echoes that sentiment.

“The commission remains hopeful that the province will create a provincial commission to regulate all events in Alberta in the very near future,” it reads.

That same year, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association adopted a resolution urging the province to create a provincial commission.

“The bylaws in place vary significantly from one municipality to another, which means that there is no coordination or consistency in the regulation of events throughout the province,” reads the AUMA resolution.

At the time, the Progressive Conservative government said no – saying it believed it is more appropriate for the municipality to oversee combative sports.

Months before Hague’s death, the NDP government was once again asked by the City of Edmonton and the City of Red Deer to step in.

“A provincial commission in Alberta would allow promoters to stage events in more municipal facilities throughout the province, with events under the governance of provincial commission authorities, as well as improve safety compliance for events and athletes,” reads the joint letter.

Again, nothing was done.

Global News reached out to Tourism and Culture Minister Ricardo Miranda for clarification on why the province has not taken action.

In a statement, Miranda said there is no consensus among municipalities to create a provincial commission.

“Any decision to take the ability to regulate away from the nine local governments across Alberta that have commissions, needs to be weighed very carefully and done in a collaborative way with our municipal partners, ensuring we hear and understand how different communities would be impacted,” the statement reads.

“If there is consensus from Alberta municipalities on a direction, and an official request is made to the province, it will certainly be considered by me and my colleagues.”

The next steps

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has been outspoken about the need for a provincial commission but was recently critical that the province is not moving to act.

“It’s not necessarily the thing local government gets out of bed in the morning to say, ‘We want to get involved in combative sports.’ But someone’s got to do it. I’m not convinced from the early response the province is going to take it on,” he said.

Iveson said “initial indications” are that the province might not act swiftly if the idea is brought up, which is why he thinks municipalities banding together may be the next best thing.

“I’ve actually had some conversations with other mayors about banding together to have a province-wide municipal commission, which might get us the results faster,” he said.

Meanwhile, sister Jackie Neil said the family is waiting on the results of the investigation into Hague’s death and trying to make sense of what happened.

READ MORE: Family of fighter who died after Edmonton boxing match frustrated review still not underway

“The last year, [Hague] decided maybe teaching was a better option. But he just did not want to give up fighting – he loved to put on a show, he loved to make people laugh and just be the centre… of attention,” she said.

“He wanted to make this his career. He wanted to make it big and make a big name for himself, which in the end he did.”

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