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Ford government quietly stands up combat sports czars panel

Planned years ago, Premier Doug Ford’s government finally implemented the first parts of its law overhauling how combat sports are run in Ontario
MMA fighter formerly of Cochrane Nick Felber
MMA fighter Nick Felber, who grew up in Cochrane, Ont. (Photo Submitted to Cochrane Today)

Premier Doug Ford’s government has quietly taken steps to restructure how combat sports are run in Ontario, moving forward on a four-year-old promise.

Ontario's 2019 budget bill contained the Combative Sports Act, which was meant to change the law for amateur and professional combative sports. 

At the time, then-sports minister Michael Tibollo said it would bring Ontario's regulation of sports like sports like boxing, mixed martial arts and kickboxing in line with international standards.

"(The change) will allow us to bring to Ontario the things that a lot of people are interested in and either have to go to Vegas or to another jurisdiction to see," he said at the time. "I think we can capture some of that money we're losing and keep it in the province."

That budget, the Ford government's first, was harshly criticized for a range of reasons, including its surprisingly high deficit projection, the cuts it contained within health care and education and to certain social services, and its myriad of booze references. Weeks after its 2019 budget was passed, Ford shuffled his cabinet, moving Tibollo to the mental health file.

For years, some initiatives from that budget have remained in legal limbo, including, until the last few weeks, the entirety of the Combative Sports Act, which was passed by the legislature but never enacted.

However, on Feb. 23, the government made a regulation and approved a cabinet order setting up the first parts of the Combative Sports Act to take effect, which will create the Ontario Combative Sport Advisory Council.

The council will have up to seven members who will offer the government advice about how combat sports in Ontario should be licensed, how they should operate, and more. A government consultation document from 2019 adds that the advisory council will "provide the Minister with advice on proposed regulations, including the rules for combative sport contests."

Advisory council members will serve terms of up to three years. They'll be paid per diems ranging from $200 to $350, plus have eligible work-related expenses covered by the government.

The council will only meet when directed by the minister responsible for the act, Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Neil Lumsden.

With the bulk of the Combative Sports Act still unimplemented, combat sports in Ontario continue to follow the Athletics Control Act and the regulations associated with it.

The new act is longer than the old one. Yet-to-be-implemented sections of it would make new senior positions within Ontario’s public service, create new inspector roles and qualifications that matchmakers — aka promoters — would have to meet, and introduce worse penalties for violators of the act.

The preamble in the Ford government’s 2019 budget said the Combative Sports Act would require fight promoters to hold “a valid licence authorizing the activity.”

Inspectors’ jobs will be to enforce the act, including by issuing compliance orders, and imposing fines of up to $10,000 per person and $100,000 for companies. 

The new act would also create up to two-year jail sentences for violators, whereas someone found guilty of contravening the Athletics Control Act can only be fined.

The Combative Sports Act also replicates much that’s similar to the old act, like by maintaining a commissioner position. The commissioner would keep many of the same wide-reaching powers overseeing combat sports in Ontario as the existing one, plus have the same powers as inspectors.

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