Edmonton city council has decided to stop green-lighting future combative sporting events for up to one year while a review into the regulatory body is done and recommendations considered.
“Alongside most of our colleagues around the province, through a resolution from the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, we’ve asked fairly overwhelmingly for the province to step in and regulate this the way every other province does,” Mayor Don Iveson said on Friday.
“There’s nowhere else in Canada, except Alberta, where municipalities are allowed to do this, or forced to do this, if you’re going to have these events in your community.”
Councillors voted unanimously Friday to amend the Combative Sports Bylaw and the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission Bylaw.
The city ordered a third-party review after Tim Hague died following a June 16 boxing match in Edmonton. The review was to include everyone involved, such as promoters, physicians, referees and inspectors. The results are scheduled to be delivered to council on Dec. 14.
“The Hague family will be the first to receive it,” Iveson said. “Council will receive it and then the public will receive that which can be shared.”
Iveson explained the moratorium would cover any new licences for any and all combative sports events.
“Any licences not processed by the end of today (Friday), events will not be able to proceed if they’re within the next year… A licence that is in hand, that event would be able to go forward.”
High-profile fights cancelled
Unified MMA confirmed to Global News its event on Dec. 15 did not yet have a licence and will be cancelled.
WBC/WIBF World Featherweight Champion Jelena Mrdjenovich was set to fight March 23 in Edmonton. That event is also off the table.
“I’m dumbfounded,” Mrdjenovich said on Friday afternoon. “I have defended my titles and fought for my titles in France, Argentina, Panama, Japan… and Edmonton has been the one place where I’ve felt the safest to fight and the most proud to fight. Yet, all of a sudden, now I have to question whether I can even get to my 50th fight.”
The 35-year-old fighter says this decision has the potential to grind her career — and that of other local fighters — to a halt.
“I feel like I want to start a petition,” she said. “I feel like, honestly, I want to sue the City of Edmonton because they’re taking out my career. This is my livelihood.”
LISTEN: Brian Bird is a trainer and owner at Calgary’s Champion’s Creed Martial Arts.
KO Boxing promoter Melanie Lubovac is running Friday night’s event at the Shaw Conference Centre.
“I got a call today from the acting executive director telling me that, as of tomorrow from here on, Edmonton is banning any combative sports.
“It’s disgusting that I have to sit here tonight and think: ‘Well, this could be my last event’ and then have to tell all the fighters after they’re done fighting that, ‘Hey, I know you fight here three to four times a year. That’s not going to happen now.'”
Lubovac said if she was forced to cancel this Friday night fight, it would cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars. She says she’s already booked venues for her 2018 events.
While she’s been following the city’s push to have the industry regulated by the province, Lubovac thinks there should have been an alternate plan in place before the city suspended licensing.
“For it to come out of the blue like this — to cancel it without having the backup of a provincial commission? Yeah, it shocked me.”
Edmonton Combative Sports Commission
In a news release Friday, the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission issued this statement:
“We respect the prerogative of Edmonton city council. 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.”
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.
“Council has been trepidatious for some time about the City of Edmonton’s involvement in this industry and in regulation of it,” Iveson said Friday.
“I believe the will of this council, and therefore the reason for the addition of this bylaw, is to put a pause on any further activity.”
An event scheduled for Friday night will proceed but the moratorium will take effect on Saturday and will last “for at least one year.”
Iveson said the “pause” will create “sufficient time for council to react to the recommendations and the findings and make decisions about whether we wish to stay in this business and also to undertake further concerted advocacy to the province of Alberta… the only province in the country that is not part of a provincial or multi-province regulatory system for combative sports.”
Pushing for a provincial commission
“The province hasn’t said no,” the mayor told Global News and 630 CHED. “We just received a letter that said there isn’t unanimity among municipalities. There are some Alberta municipalities who would like to do this themselves.
“But our experience has not been positive and the majority of those present at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and most of the other major cities in the province are either agnostic or supportive of the province taking it over.”
In a Nov. 29 letter to Iveson, Alberta Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda recognized that Edmonton’s request for provincial oversight was endorsed by 14 other municipalities.
“While I have heard from some who think that a provincial commission would be preferred, I’ve also heard from other communities that are strongly opposed to the idea,” Miranda wrote. “Given that, any decision to take the ability to regulate away from local governments needs to be weighed very carefully and done in a collaborative way with our municipal partners.”
Scroll down to read the full letter.
A spokesperson for the ministry said Friday they are considering the request and “will be working with municipalities, sports organizations and other government ministries to determine the best approach… while ensuring Albertans feel safe and protected when it comes to participating in any sporting event.”
“They are health and safety issues which, frankly, the province is better equipped to manage since health is their jurisdiction,” Iveson said. “If these events are going to happen anywhere in our province, we want them to be safe and consistently run.”
Edmonton, other Alberta cities, and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), have been asking the province to take over regulating the sport for years.
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.
In an August statement to Global News, Miranda said there was no consensus among municipalities to create a provincial commission.
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.
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.