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CMA takes fight against cage fighting to Commons committee

When it came time to sum up the CMA's thoughts on a proposal to legalize mixed martial arts (MMA) prize fighting in Canada, CMA President Anna Reid didn't mince words.

"An activity in which the overriding goal is to pummel one's opponent into submission does not promote good health," Reid explained during an April 15 appearance before the Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Reid said the answer to the question before the committee - whether or not to legalize MMA under the Criminal Code - comes down to a simple choice between money or health.

"It is my duty to protect the health of patients and to promote non-harmful activities," Reid explained, "and it is the mandate of the CMA to advocate for the highest standards of health and health care. For me, as a physician, it is about putting health first. I cannot condone punches to the head."

Reid's statement came less than three years after the CMA first waded into the "cage fighting" controversy by passing a resolution at its 2010 annual meeting calling for a ban on MMA prize-fighting matches in Canada. Twenty-four years earlier, it issued a similar call for a ban on boxing. The MMA motion passed in 2010 received the support of 84% of General Council delegates, and Reid said the reasons for the decisive vote are easy to understand.

"One of the primary responsibilities of a physician is to promote good health, and to this end we are strongly in favour of physical activity," Reid said. "However, cage fighting, like boxing, is distinct from many other sports in that the basic intent of the fighter is to cause harm in order to incapacitate his or her opponent."

The long-term impact of repetitive brain trauma related to boxing include memory disorders, Parkinson's disease and "boxer's dementia," an affliction similar to Alzheimer's disease. Although less is known about the long-term impact of MMA fighting on fighters' brains, Reid said deaths linked to the sport are not uncommon. For instance, an Ontario man died following an unsanctioned MMA fight in Michigan in early April.

Reid called on politicians to "think long and hard" before changing the Criminal Code. "I have seen too often the debilitating effects of head injuries on individuals and been saddened to see the limitations imposed on their lives and those of their families - limitations that in many cases will last a lifetime."

The CMA presented two recommendations to the committee: that the Criminal Code maintain the ban on MMA prize fighting, and that the federal government undertake further research on head injuries and concussion in Canada.

See: CMA Submission on Bill S-209, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (prize fights)
Opening statement by Dr. Anna Reid submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

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