Alberta mayors to debate combative sport safety, fixing 'patchwork' of oversight

Alberta municipal leaders back calls for provincial combative sports commission

The mayors of Red Deer and Edmonton are asking other Alberta municipal leaders to join their campaign for stronger rules to keep professional fighters and boxers safe.

A 34-year-old boxer and teacher, Tim Hague, died from a traumatic brain injury he received in a June fight in Edmonton.

His family and other critics have said Hague, a former mixed martial arts athlete, shouldn't have been in the ring and that there were multiple opportunities to stop the match before the fatal blow.

His competitor, former Edmonton Eskimos defensive end Adam Braidwood, knocked Hague down four times in two rounds. Hague was knocked unconscious by a left uppercut in the second round.

'Ethical need'

Right now, Alberta is the only province in Canada to leave regulating of combative sports matches to municipalities — and some, like Red Deer, don't even have regulating bodies.

"We're in a situation where the city does not have a commission. It would not be sustainable for the city to have a commission," Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

"And yet there is an ethical need for us to have an oversight standard for events of this nature."

Combative sports include boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, mixed martial arts and Muay Thai, among others.

Veer, along with Edmonton's mayor, is asking the Alberta Union of Municipalities Association to vote this week at a meeting in Calgary to support the creation of a provincewide regulator, in hopes of convincing the NDP provincial government to put such oversight in place.

The municipalities voted in favour of similar motion in 2013. No changes were made by the then-Progressive Conservative provincial government, Veer said.

Veer hopes a provincial regulator could assess and oversee safety standards — like accrediting referees, mandating paramedics at games, determining when fighters must stop fighting and how much training is required before a fight.

"The consistent standards for fighter safety, for how events are sanctioned or not sanctioned and mitigating some of the risks to the fight specifically," she said. "Safety is our first and foremost priority."

The heavyweight match in which Hague died was scheduled at the last minute after two other fighters dropped out, leaving him with only a few weeks to prepare.

'Not consensus,' minister says

Alberta Culture and Tourism Minister Ricardo Miranda declined an interview with CBC News, but in a statement said "there is not consensus" on how best to regulate the sport's safety among the province's municipalities.

"While I've heard from some who think that a provincial commission would be preferred, I've also heard from other communities that are strongly opposed the idea," Miranda said.

"We look forward to the discussion at AUMA this year, but regardless of the outcome our Ministry will continue to work with municipalities, sports organizations and other government ministries to ensure Albertans feel safe and protected when it comes to participating in any sporting event."

He did not specify which mayors are opposed to provincial oversight.

The Alberta mayors will have a chance to debate Veer's proposal, though it's unclear whether the province will take any action if they decide to support it.

"There is such a patchwork of some commissions," Veer said.

"And I think with the emerging popularity of combative sports and particularly as Alberta grows as a province, municipalities are getting more and more requests [to host combative sporting events]."

The Edmonton Combative Sports Commission has hired an independent firm to investigate Hague's death.

With files from Caroline Wagner and Calgary Eyeopener