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Legal challenge launched against France’s Mixed Martial Arts ban

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Individuals and organizations involved in MMA have began a legal challenge against the decision to effectively ban MMA in France.

Somme Centenary Commemorations In France Photo by Chris Radburn - Pool/Getty Images

In October France’s Ministry of Sports released a decree concerning combat sports held on French soil. In that decree the Ministry ruled that the use of ground strikes within French combat sports was illegal, effectively outlawing the sport of mixed-martial-arts (MMA). The Ministry’s decree also prohibited combat sports from taking place in a cage.

The French MMA Federation (CFMMA) and the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) immediately responded to the French Ministry of Sports’ decree. CFMMA president Bertrand Ammoussou told Bloody Elbow that his organization would “fight to overturn” the decision.

IMMAF president Kerrith Brown told Bloody Elbow his organization was “dismayed” with the decision and blamed “special interest groups” for the ban on basic MMA elements.

French MMA fighter Tom Duquesnoy, who defeated Alan Philpott at BAMMA 27 in Dublin last weekend, went a step further in his criticism of the decree. Duquesnoy told Bloody Elbow that he believed the French Judo Federation (FJF) were the main special interest group lobbying the French government to outlaw MMA. “Their goal is to give a bad image of MMA,” said Duquesnoy.

Alexandre Allegret-Pilot, a lawyer and MMA practitioner based in Paris, has joined with a number of groups in France to launch an official challenge to the Ministry of Sports’ decision.

Allegret-Pilot’s coalition includes the French Federation of Pankration (FPAMM), the National Kenpo Commission (CNK), and the Fight’Ness MMA gym franchise. Allegret-Pilot did approach the CFMMA, but they informed him they wished to pursue their own separate challenge to the ban.

Yesterday Allegret-Pilot, the FPAMM, CNK, and Fight’Ness submitted a formal written challenge to the Conseil d’Etat (France’s Council of State) arguing against the ban on common MMA techniques and practices.

“This decree is prejudicial, not only against MMA practitioners, trainers and promoters, but also against some people dealing with other forms of combat sports,” said Allegret-Pilot regarding his motivation for challenging the ban.

“There are many associations willing to challenge the decree, their main limit being the financial burden of legal action. That is why I have - both as an MMA practitioner and as a lawyer - offered [my legal services] for free.”

Part of Allegret-Pilot’s argument to the Conseil d’Etat is that the decree to ban aspects of MMA is “non necessary and a disproportionate restriction of freedom.”

“Banning MMA is not the only way to maintain public order and fighters safety. As less stringent options exist, the decree should be turned-down,” he added, stating that he understood that some of the objection to MMA is borne out of a genuine concern for fighter safety.

However, Allegret-Pilot - like Duquesnoy - believes the French Judo Federation is a large motivating factor behind the decree. Moreover, he believes that the interests of the FJF, and why they are pursuing an MMA ban, should be examined very closely.

“The French martial arts’ and fight sports’ landscape is largely [entwined with] judo,” explained Allegret-Pilot. “With over 625,000 French people having a licence, judo is the fourth largest sport in France (after soccer, tennis and horse riding), and the largest martial art. For instance, boxing has about 45,000 people with a licence (meaning there are 93% fewer boxers than judokas).”

He alleged that the French judo establishment has a vested interest in suppressing MMA in France. “The ‘quasi-monopoly’ that the Judo Federation has on martial arts is being strongly challenged by MMA, especially since MMA indirectly promotes Brazilian jiu-jitsu!” said Allegret-Pilot. “In order to maintain its structural advantage over its competitors the Judo Federation manages to keep MMA outside of France, for the moment.”

Allegret-Pilot also suggested that the prevalence and popularity of judo in France has resulted in many government officials having a background and fondness for judo, which could make them more easily influenced by the FJF.

In defending his assertion that the FJF wanted to block MMA in France, he cited the actions of FJF president Jean-Luc Rougé, a former World and European champion judoka. In February 2015 Rougé announced that the FJF would expel members who taught judo at MMA gyms, as reported by L’Equipe.

Rougé also once stated that MMA was a “refuge for jihadists” when speaking with Le Point.

Allegret-Pilot also stated that one of Rougé’s former vice-presidents was a current advisor to France’s Sports Minister, Valérie Fourneyron. Allegret-Pilot called Minister Fournehyon the architect of the decree which effectively banned MMA in October.

Another point Allegret-Pilot has said he wishes to raise with French authorities is the parliamentary investigation into MMA which was ordered by then French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in April, 2016.

He stated that Patrick Vignal, a French member of parliament, and Jacques Grosperrin, a senator, led the investigation. Both politicians have backgrounds in judo. Vignal is a 4th degree black-belt and Grosperrin a 5th degree black-belt.

Despite their judo backgrounds, Allegret-Pilot stated that the investigation issued positive feedback on MMA after hours of interviewing instructors, fighters, promoters and medical doctors. The investigation’s full report was due on October 15th, but was then postponed until November 8th.

On October 23rd the French Sports Ministry released its decree banning many aspects of MMA, rendering the parliamentary investigation’s findings redundant.

Despite the difficult challenge Allegret-Pilot anticipates in fighting the French Sports Ministry’s decision on MMA, he believes something good will come of his efforts regardless of the result.

“A legal action against the decree is much needed,” enforced Allegret-Pilot. “In the best case scenario it will contribute to MMA’s development in France; in the worst case scenario it will force unity among French MMA players and remind the French government that even sport is a matter of democracy.”