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Morgan Treacy/INPHO Michael Ring (file pic).
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Minister for Sport on MMA tragedy: 'I saw this coming'
Michael Ring says he has had “grave concerns” about the sport for a long time.

MICHAEL RING, THE Acting Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, says he saw an event like Saturday night’s MMA tragedy “coming” and emphasised that his powers are “limited” with regard to regulation of the sport.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Off the Ball show following the death of Portuguese fighter Joao Carvalho after his defeat at the Total Extreme Fighting (TEF) event at the National Stadium in Dublin, Minister Ring also highlighted the fact that MMA is not currently affiliated with the Sports Council as a potential stumbling block as authorities attempt to increase its safety and prioritise the welfare of athletes.

“The problem in this country is that this sport is not part of any national governing body and it’s not affiliated in anyway to the Sports Council,” he said. “They don’t get any money from the Sports Council or the government, so we have some difficulty with that.

“I’d expect that an investigation will come quickly and I would not like to make any further comment on that until an investigation has been concluded.”

Minister Ring also claimed he expected a tragedy would occur as far back as 2014.

I saw this coming down the line before anybody else. I wrote to these (MMA) operators and told them I expected them to try to have the same standards as every other sporting organisation in the country. I actually saw the dangers of this sport coming as minister and I did my best in trying to do something about it. I just couldn’t bring them in and regulate them because they weren’t getting funding from the state.

“On 20 February 2014 before this event happened, I wrote to 17 organisations — commercial operators that were running for-profit events in Ireland — I outlined to them that I expected the same kind of safety standards that existed for other sports such as rugby, horse-racing and professional boxing.

“I’ve been concerned about the growth of this sport and the way it’s unregulated.

“I personally wouldn’t be the biggest fan of this sport and I’ve made that clear to them, but at the same time, there’s a great interest in this sport, there are a lot of people turning up to these events and there has to be some regulation put in place.”

Asked what could be done to rectify the situation, Minister Ring admitted there was still a high degree of uncertainty in relation to the issue.

“How regulation is put in place I don’t know, it’s something I’ll be discussing with my officials and the Sports Council.

“This is not a recognised sport… It’s a new phenomenon that’s taken off and it’s the media that’s built it up.

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“Why it’s not a sport is because they have never looked for recognition, there’s no national governing body, there’s no local government body.

But it’s something that I will now be asking the Sports Council to look at to see what we can actually do to regulate it. We don’t have any great control over any sport in the country except if they want to be part of it and are looking for funding from the state. If they are looking for money from the state, there has to be a national government body, there has to be rules and regulations and different organisations set up, and they have to live within the laws of the land.

“It’s a matter for the Sports Council — they’re the people that regulate the sport, I provide the funding.”

Ring also dismissed suggestions that the Sports Council should have taken the initiative to approach MMA authorities in order to discuss the issues of funding and how the sport can become officially recognised.

We have a lot of sports in this country looking for funding from the state. We’re not going out there on a case-by-case basis looking for sports who are looking for funding. Over the last number of years, we’ve found it difficult enough providing funds for the sporting organisations that are regulated. I have worked very hard at government level to try and find that funding.”

He also rejected the assertion that MMA should have been prioritised because of its inherent dangers.

“There are a lot of other sports out there where we see young people getting injured. Let’s not pretend it’s not happening.

“I don’t know what regulations (we can implement) to bring them in line.

“We may not be able to recognise the sport. We may not be able to do anything about it. But at the end of the day, we have to look at it and see (if we can do anything).”

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