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France upholds ban on MMA

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France’s Ministry of Sports has upheld a series of rules that effectively prohibit mixed martial arts within the country.

Earth Hour In Paris Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

Yesterday it was announced that France’s Ministry of Sports would uphold a ban on a number of details pertaining to combat sports in that country. Among the list of prohibitions are fighting techniques which are core components of the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA).

As reported by Sky Sports News, a Ministry press release issued on Wednesday, and titled ‘Decree relating to technical regulations and security for public combat sport events,stated the following:

“Fights will take place on a carpet or in a ring with three or four ropes. The corners of the ring will be protected.”

This stipulation ruled out the use of a cage, or Octagon, in French combat sports. However, many MMA promotions use a traditional ring for their events.

The press release then went on to list a number of techniques which are now “strictly outlawed” in French combat sports. The prohibited techniques include punches, kicks, or strikes with the knees against a fighter on the ground and any strike with an elbow.

That stipulation effectively prevents any recognizable form of MMA being contested within the nation.

The press release also decreed that headbutts, pulling hair, biting, eye gouges, blows to the genitals, spine, and back of the head were also outlawed (as they are in the unified rules of MMA). Intentionally throwing opponents directly onto their head or neck, or out of the ring was also banned.

The French MMA Federation (CFMMA) responded to the ban through their president Bertrand Amoussou, a former MMA competitor and European Championship bronze medalist in judo.

“The ministry takes us for idiots,” said Amoussou to French outlet L’Express before stating that all countries in Europe recognize MMA as a sport other than Norway and now France. Amoussou then pledged that CFMMA would launch legal action to contest the decision.

France does not currently recognize the CFMMA as a regulator of combat sports.

Amoussou also released a statement to Bloody Elbow on this issue:

“It’s a very sad day for the French MMA community. I have been fighting for the recognition of MMA in France since 2004 and it’s the first time that the government has made a clear statement about its position on MMA.

Those lobbying against us are clearly very strong. The strangest thing here is the timing of this decision. The prime minister ordered a few months ago for a parliamentary report to be conducted into MMA, and named one parliamentary deputy and one senator to investigate. After more than 150 hours of interviews, they were about to give their conclusion at the National Assembly on November 8th. Through contact with them, I know that the conclusion was in favour of MMA.

French Judo Federation President, Jean Luc Rouge, has his former Vice-president working as an adviser to the Sports Minister. He is our strongest opponent and it seems that he has just won a battle - but the war is not over.

We are going to go out and fight to overturn this. I am currently speaking with my lawyer in order to determine how we should proceed. If we take this to the law courts we need to be certain that we can win, because if we lose, it will be even more difficult to convince the next government, come May.”

In addition to being president of the CFMMA, Amoussou also serves on the board of directors for the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF). That organization states that its purpose is to, “further the development and recognition of the sport of mixed martial arts, enabling international competition through the organization of national MMA federations around the world.”

Kerrith Brown, President of the IMMAF also released a statement to Bloody Elbow regarding what has happened in France:

"We are dismayed at the decision of the Sports Minister which can be read not only as a direct attack on MMA, but worse, an attempt to sabotage democratic, parliamentary process since the verdict from a bipartisan review of the sport was due for release by MPs on 8th November. It is of concern that special interest groups seemingly have such power to corrupt fair decision making and democratic process in the sporting arena.

A number of young, French athletes have competed and medalled under IMMAF - including, most notably, 2015 World Champion Iurie Bejanari. Other French athletes have competed professionally at elite international level on promotions that include the UFC. It is very sad that the accolades of these competitors are not recognized by their home country. Furthermore, it is worrying that due to lack of recognition safety is not regulated within the sport, putting participants at risk.”

And it’s not just officials who have expressed concern over this issue. French MMA super-prospect Tom “Firekid” Duquesnoy also released a statement to Bloody Elbow, in which he said the following:

"It's a power struggle.

In France judo is the fourth national sport and the first in combat sports. The leaders of the French Judo Federation use lobbying to counter the advance of MMA because they know that if MMA is legalized, many licensees will leave for MMA because of the success of the sport.

Today, UFC weighs 4 billion and is growing in all countries of the world to such an extent that MMA has become the fourth sport in the USA. The anxiety of the French Judo (organization) is well founded. Picture that the Judo in France next to the UFC, it's a little black duck next to the tall golden swan.

Their goal is to give a bad image of MMA, saying that it is a violent sport without rules in order to discredit him with the Ministry of Sports and the general public.

We know the close ties between the highest authorities of the Judo Federation and French sports ministry, their ultimate goal might be to include MMA in the Judo Federation, it is a business issue, not ethics because right now, everyone knows that MMA has always been ranked outside of the top 10 most risky sports."

The French Judo Federation’s opposition to MMA, as described by both Bernard Amoussou and Tom Duquesnoy, is neither new or unexpected.

Jean-Luc Rougé, president of the FJF and a former European and World championship gold medal winning judoka, has made his negative feelings towards MMA clear on multiple occasions.

In an interview with Le Telegramme in October Rougé was asked whether MMA could be used as a gateway to attract young people to judo. “MMA gives a very bad image,” replied Rougé. “Because you can knock the opponent down and hurt him.”

“In judo we respect the opponent. It is not at all the same mindset. We are not there to ‘kill’ the other.”

In the past, Rougé has also suggested that MMA was a “refuge for Jihadists.” His organization has also banned its members from teaching MMA.

Bloody Elbow will provide news and updates on this story as the CFMMA and IMMAF contest the French Ministry of Sports’ decision.