Combat sports: Call for greater regulation and safety as events grow in popularity

There is growing interest in events like Roar of Singapore, held in February, when Singaporean boxer Rafi Majid (right) emerged victorious against Thailand's Plaisakda Boonmalert.
There is growing interest in events like Roar of Singapore, held in February, when Singaporean boxer Rafi Majid (right) emerged victorious against Thailand's Plaisakda Boonmalert.PHOTO: TERRENCE CHUA
Pradip Subramanian and Steven Lim facing off during the AFC match at Marina Bay Sands last Saturday.
Pradip Subramanian and Steven Lim facing off during the AFC match at Marina Bay Sands last Saturday.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ ASIA FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP

Call for greater regulation and safety guidelines as combat sport events grow in popularity

The shock death of bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian in a celebrity muay thai fight at the inaugural Asia Fighting Championship (AFC) last Saturday has put the spotlight on the local combat sports scene and led to calls for greater regulation on several related fronts.

These include relooking the ease by which promoters are able to organise such live events here as well as the setting up of a regulatory body with the power to enforce universal safety guidelines.

The number of fight nights has increased since mixed martial arts (MMA) promoter One Championship staged its first event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in September 2011. Others have since capitalised on the growing popularity of MMA. With few barriers to entry, there have been at least 15 fight events since the start of last year.

According to the Singapore Statutes, a public entertainment licence issued by the police is needed to organise sporting contests "of any kind between any number of persons or animals" under the Public Entertainments Act, but not if the event is organised by "any registered society, trade union, company or association".

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority directory lists the AFC organisers - muay thai gym Muse Fitness Club and event management firm Axseed Events - as registered firms, so they did not require a public entertainment licence for the event at Marina Bay Sands.

Other permits for fire safety or the sale of alcohol are usually needed, noted lawyer Amolat Singh. He added that the Public Entertainments Act covers a lot of ground such as the arts and film, but fight events might not fall entirely within its powers.

  • RISING POPULARITY

  • MMA's worldwide appeal has helped the sport make inroads into Singapore. With few barriers to entry for organisers, this has led to a sharp increase in live fight nights staged here.

    ONE CHAMPIONSHIP

    • Four events in 2016/17

    • Tickets: $28 to $2,140

    • Last event was on May 26 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium

    SINGAPORE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP

    • Five events in 2016/17

    • From $35

    • Le Danz Ballroom in Queen Street on Sept 23

    RINGSTAR MANAGEMENT

    • Two Roar of Singapore events in 2017

    • Tickets: $58 to $98

    • Roar of Singapore 3 slated for Oct 20

    CARTEL INTERNATIONAL PROMOTIONS

    • One event in 2017 at OCBC Arena on March 25

    • Tickets: $34 to $150

    ASIA FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP

    • First show on Sept 23 at Marina Bay Sands Expo

    • Tickets: $95 to $5,350

    SPARTAN SUPREMACY

    • Two events in 2016/17

    • Tickets: From $12

    • Strike Combat gym in Selegie Road on June 4

"Looking at the Act, you can get an idea of what it is meant to control or prohibit, the boxes that it ticks," he said. "But it appears to me that there's no box for health and maybe something can be done about that for sporting contests."

The bout between Pradip and YouTube personality Steven Lim, both making their fight debuts, also highlighted that though stringent medical and safety standards do exist, there is no universal standard by which promoters are bound.

While Lim said he trained for 31/2 months in the lead-up to the fight, Pradip was a last-minute replacement for singer Sylvester Sim, who pulled out citing insurance issues a day before the fight.

In contrast, organisers of the sixth Singapore Fighting Championships, held on the same night, cancelled a fight after a fighter did not turn up for the weigh-in.

Local MMA fighter Tiffany Teo, 27, was baffled when she saw images of Pradip and Lim fighting without headgear. "It was almost like a full-on pro fight," she said. "Most pro fighters would have fought in amateur bouts with headgear before turning pro."

She said all fighters under the One Championship stable like herself have to clear medical tests including blood pressure, heart rate, and eye checks, brain scans and, for women, a pregnancy check.

AFC founder and chief executive officer Sasidharan Unnithan had said that Pradip, 32, did a health check before the fight and was certified fit, according to guidelines laid out by sanctioning body World Muaythai Council. He also said a medical team and an ambulance were on standby during the fight.

Pradip had lost the two-round bout by a technical knockout, and looked shaken before collapsing. He was taken to Singapore General Hospital where he died of cardiac arrest respiratory failure, according to a preliminary medical report. Police are investigating the unnatural death.

Cardiac arrests in which the heart stops pumping are treated by the rapid application of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

"Though cardiac complications are rare in fight sports, most healthcare professionals should be able to recognise the symptoms of cardiac arrest," said Associate Professor Ching Chi Keong, a senior consultant at the National Heart Centre Singapore. "I would be surprised if that were not the case. It's standard operating procedure. AEDs should be available to medical teams at any sporting event."

Singapore Silat Federation president Sheik Alau'ddin, who formed the MMA Federation of Singapore in 2013, called for a regulatory body with the power to enforce universal safety guidelines in combat sports.

He said a commission was necessary to monitor promoters' safety standards and ensure that they abide by the rules.

"And this has to be something approved by SNOC (Singapore National Olympic Council) or Sport Singapore. If not, people are just going to say, what is this body coming in, and not comply."

It is understood that SportSG chief executive Lim Teck Yin will consult the National Sports Safety Committee to see if it would be practical for the body to provide such guidelines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'Eye on fight nights'. Print Edition | Subscribe