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Quebec combat sports athletes, federations fighting to get back in the ring

Boxers Celeste Baillargeon and Diizon Belfon training at the Hard Knox Gym in Montreal on August 11, 2020.
Boxers Celeste Baillargeon and Diizon Belfon training at the Hard Knox Gym in Montreal on August 11, 2020. Sebastien Gagnon Dorval/Global News

Like many athletes who practice combat sports in Quebec, Celeste Baillargeon is allowed to train in the gym on her own, but any fighting or sparring with an opponent has been off-limits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a big impact,” said Baillargeon, who is a provincial boxing champion. “We have to spar to practice our boxing, so I can do fitness and conditioning stuff, but I can’t improve my boxing skills.”

With most team sports in the province already given the green light to resume, athletes who practice combat sports, like boxing, judo and wrestling, are fighting to be allowed to practice with contact again.

READ MORE: Team sports to gradually resume in Quebec amid coronavirus pandemic

“There are like 20 players on a hockey team — twenty players times two — that’s 40 guys or girls, playing on the same field, or on the same rink,” said Baillargeon. “So I don’t see why two people wouldn’t be able to box in the same ring.”

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On Tuesday morning, Quebec’s combat sports federations met with public health officials to propose the next phase of training.

Quebec’s boxing federation president, Ariane Fortin, strongly believes that there is a way to practice contact training safely.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Montreal athletes anxious to start training, playing again

“We think that a bubble of four people, training always together, is actually either the same level of risk that is allowed in other spheres of society or other sports right now, or even less risk,” she said.

Fortin said she fears that if the province doesn’t allow combat sports to resume contact soon, registrations for gyms and different disciplines will dip, and the sports will struggle to survive.

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Athletes agree that fighting is a crucial part of what they do.

READ MORE: $72 million in federal funding earmarked for Canadian sport amid coronavirus pandemic

“We need that physical contact — this is how we get better, this is how we work on our craft,” said Diizon Belfon, a professional boxer. “This how we become what we aspired to be when we started boxing. We need the physical contact.”

The federations should get an answer from public health officials within a few days on whether the next phase has been approved.

In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for the ministry of health and social services said they are aware of the challenges the federations face.

“We know that these organizations also have the health and safety of their athletes at heart. We will study the plans submitted by the organizations we met. A decision will be rendered as soon as possible,” she noted.