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'It's a long road they'd have to travel': why MMA is not recognised by Sport Ireland

Sport Ireland has been conducting anti-doping tests on Irish MMA fighters even though the sport isn’t yet recognised by the body.

Image: Raymond Spencer/INPHO

SPORT IRELAND CHIEF executive John Treacy says mixed martial arts (MMA) faces ‘a long road’ before the national sporting body recognises the sport.

The rise to prominence of Irish MMA fighters has forced the sport onto Sport Ireland’s agenda by way of anti-doping tests passed their way by USADA for athletes competing in UFC bouts (as John Kavanagh mentioned in this column in November).

So although the governing body may administer tests on Irish MMA athletes, it is only the top rung who can currently come under their scrutiny.

To change that, Treacy says an Irish governing body for MMA must present themselves seeking recognition from Sport Ireland (the amalgamation of the Irish Sports Council and National Sports Campus).

“That’s something that needs to be put in place so the board at Sport Ireland can consider it,” says Treacy.

“We have met them, but it wasn’t a corporate body we met, it was a number of individuals. They would have to form a body and make their way into us.”

Kavanagh, coach to Conor McGregor, is president of an MMA body in Ireland; the Irish Amateur Pankration Association (IAPA), which operates within the Irish Amateur Wrestling Association.

IAPA, Treacy says, is currently the front-runner to fill the vacant role.

John Kavanagh Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“Maybe Pankration isn’t a million miles from MMA, so there are mechanisms there. But we need to deal with a corporate body, we can’t deal with individuals, because you need rules, regulations – all the non-government bodies need to have rules and regulations and be fully compliant with WADA.”

The rules and regulations make up an even longer list of criteria that any possible representative body would have to satisfy to gain the support of Sport Ireland. Even if a body were formed today, Treacy emphasises that there are still many boxes to tick before the link is forged.

“There’s a long list, it’s a long road. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a period of three years and there are marks they need to hit over those three years.

Sometimes sports come and go. Sometimes they might start off with us and, by the time the three years is up they might be off to another sport, so it needs to be well organised.

“It needs a good executive in place to run a sport properly. And you need to make sure you have safety measures in place, rules and regulations, and get clubs to mirror what they’re putting in place.  There’s a long way to go yet in terms of that sport.

Dr. Úna May, David Howman, John Treacy, Caroline Murphy and Michael Ring, T.D John Treacy, right, at the launch of Sport Ireland's anti-doping report for 2015. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“If there’s a body formed they can make an application to us. We’re not excluding anyone, but they have to go through a process. It’s a long road they’d have to travel.

“We met them last year, maybe the year before — we were actually talking about anti-doping then as well. What we were saying to them at the time is: ‘make sure the sport is safe, make sure it’s monitored and the events being held in Ireland have good safety standards with doctors on standby and that sort of thing’.

It’s always better if sport is organised. Then the sport themselves can put their own safety systems in place and make sure they have rules and regulations that comply with best practice.

“That’s a good starting point for any organisation. If sports are informal in nature, we’re not quite sure what rules apply.”

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Sean Farrell

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