A SPOTLIGHT ON THE RECOGNITION OF MMA IN EUROPE
By lead writer Jorden Curran
While the French Sports Minister’s plans to legalise MMA this year has been watched with keen interest, France is not the only country in which the sport’s ban is being upturned.
It was the breakthrough of a lifetime for Norway’s MMA community back in April, when the Norwegian MMA Federation (NMMAF) confirmed recognition for Amateur MMA under the Norwegian Sports Federation.
“This is great news for the sport of MMA, both as a recreational sport and for the athletes,” NMMAF President Henning Svendsen commented, earlier this year. “This will make it much more efficient to manage and evolve the sport in a solid and secure way.”
For years, Norway remained a universal holdout on the legalization of popular combat sport. MMA itself was not a targeted victim, with a blanket “knockout law” for all combat sport spanning four decades in addition to outright prohibition of professional boxing.
After a campaign fronted by undefeated pro boxing world champion and Norwegian sports icon, Cecilia Brækhus, Norway’s restrictive knockout law can now be lifted on a case-by-case basis, as of 2016 by the “knockout committee,” who may grant dispensation of the KO law.
With potential acceptance of MMA events on the horizon, the NMMAF attended parliament hearings that saw welcome changes to legislation that paved the way for boxing. However, the parliament process showed less consideration towards MMA. Instead, NMMAF turned to the National Sports Federation and overcame the umbrella body’s skepticism by laying out the clear divide between professional and amateur MMA.
“We focused on MMA as a recreational and amateur sport, and that NMMAF primarily represented the vast majority of recreational athletes and amateurs,” NMMAF vice-president, Thomas Rye Eriksen explained. “This was a better tune for the sports federation which primarily was opposed to the commercialization and “demoralization” of MMA, and did not think this was compatible with Norwegian sports values.”
The strategy was successful; NMMAF had taken amateur MMA to official recognition and is now entitled to apply for KO law dispensation. Sports which have already secured exemption include karate, sanshou, taekwondo, and boxing, pro boxing and kickboxing. NMMAF is set to apply on behalf of sanctioned amateur MMA once standards can be agreed that are in line with the international IMMAF – WMMAA unified amateur rule set.
Today, a considerable job remains if Norway is to green-light the sport of MMA at the professional level, with minimum fight restrictions still imposed that prevent bouts taking place under standard professional rules. This includes the maximum length of a round being set at no more than 3 minutes, and while this poses no hindrance to boxing or amateur MMA, the widely used standard for a professional MMA round is 5 minutes. Knee and elbow strikes have also been prohibited for other sports, and so further parliament discussion is required with pro MMA still in the dark.
However, similar to pro boxer Brækhus, surging UFC contender Jack Hermansson (pictured) may unknowingly find himself as the face who captures the attention of Norway’s government, as Eriksen explains.
“As Jack Hermansson, among others, are climbing the ranks in the UFC, professional MMA has received renewed attention in media and in the last 6 months we have been contacted by several politicians who want to front legalization of professional MMA. It seems like the political landscape has changed over the few last years and it is conceivable that we may see politicians call for full regulation of MMA in Norway.”
The UFC itself has a storied history of fighting for the acceptance of MMA in the United States, overcoming political interests and serving education to state leaders, one by one, until “Thank You NY State Legislature!” was tweeted by former UFC chairman and CEO, Lorenzo Fertitta in 2016, marking complete legalization of MMA across the USA.
“We would welcome MMA as part of the political agenda,” Eriksen added. “We see the Swedish model of regulation as a pioneering model of how regulation should work. It is important that NMMAF does not turn into a voice of the pro sport. Although we are here to facilitate amateur sport and recreational development for the vast majority, at the same time we strongly feel that potential future regulation of pro-MMA should not be done outside the sports federation, but within.”
Norway’s Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden narrowly avoided MMA being outlawed in 2006 upon concerns within the Swedish government, but of which resulted in sanctioning powers being granted to the Swedish MMA Federation (SMMAF). Similarly, France has made headlines in 2019 as the political blockade of MMA by influential figures was brought to an end by sports minister Roxana Mărăcineanu, who has mandated full regulation and acceptance of the sport: A tender process is currently underway by which other national combat sports federations may bid for the opportunity to house MMA, in order to speed up the process of regulation and therefore legalisation. An announcement is expected from France in the coming months as to which federation will be mandated with the caretaker role for MMA
Norway’s progressiveness has shown a light to MMA at the national level, the country has set out on a path towards proper regulation of a legitimate sport which echoes its American evolution, and closer to home within European counterparts where safety, education and liberation of athlete rights have prevailed.
These developments look set to render Iceland as the sole, last, European nation in which MMA competition remains banned.