Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe has said that while he believes MMA should be looked upon as a legitimate sport, it is still a long way away from gaining government funding.
“My own view is that I do believe it is a sport,” Donohoe told the42.ie. “I do believe that it’s a very extreme sport and it’s not to everybody’s taste. But I do believe it’s a sport because everybody who gets into the octagon does so on the basis of consent.”
Donohoe’s comments highlight an archaic, antiquated and borderline medieval view towards mixed martial arts in Ireland whereby certain sub-sections of the country view MMA as “repulsive” and “barbaric” as Paul Kimmage once put it.
Kimmage certainly is a far cry from the voice of the Irish people but his views are shared by some, with Irish journalist and sports historian Eoghan Corry claiming MMA to be “ephemeral and inconsequential”.
Speaking alongside SBG coach John Kavanagh on the The Late Review with Tom McGurk last year, Corry said “It isn’t a sport!”
“It’s a top down sport. It was created from eight constituent parts. It’s a massive marketing success created by one body, one organisation, which ruled out the boxing problem and it cashed in because boxing decided to put the shutters down, go behind pay-per-view, all of those sorts of things. The UFC saw the opportunity, moved in. It’s great, it’s the pantomime, it’s a gaiety.”
Their’s may be two of the louder voices criticising MMA in the country, but they are representative of certain sub-section’s of Irish society. The fact that a Government Minister has to even start a sentence with “my own view is that I do believe it is a sport”, is fairly indicative of that.
Despite Conor McGregor’s wildly successful rise through the UFC, the question is still being entertained as to whether MMA is indeed a sport and whether or not it deserves funding from the Irish Sporting Council.
“They’re an independent body to government and they handle all matters in relation to governing and regulation — independent of the views of myself or my department,” added Donohoe in relation to the fact that the Irish Sports Council doesn’t currently recognise MMA.
“Mixed martial arts can only be entitled to funding if it is recognised as a sport. In order for it to be recognised as a sport, it’s something that the organisers of the sport themselves will want to see happen, and it’s something that the Sports Council themselves will have to decide on.”
“I think we’re a long way away from that at the moment.”
Mixed martial arts in Ireland is currently overseen by the Irish Amateur Pankration Association and in order for the sport to receive funding it would need the association’s president John Kavanagh to request official recognition from the ISC.
But funding aside, Ireland has it’s first ever UFC World Champion, who is arguably MMA’s biggest star, and there is still debate regarding whether it should be classified as sport.
Mind-boggling at best and utterly embarrassing at worst.
What if there was no McGregor? What if Ireland’s biggest MMA star was Cathal Pendred? A guy who had a relatively short career in the UFC with four wins and two losses. Yes, the sport would have received more exposure than say it had during the nineties, but there is reason to believe that there would be a lot more people in the “human cockfighting” camp than the “this is an exciting new sport” brigade.
The sport is still growing and while it seems to have largely overcome it’s teething process in the US, moving past allegations of excessive violence and a no-holds-barred extreme wrestling perception, in Ireland it is still very much weaving its way into the mainstream consciousness. This is in spite of the fact that the country possesses one of the most transcendent athletes in not only MMA but world sport.
There may be some confusion regarding how the sport is run in Ireland at present, with the administration side of things a far cry from the established administration’s of the GAA, IRFU and FAI. This is understandable given the relative youth of the sport, but to question whether it is actually a sport at all is frankly insulting to those who practice it and the athletes that compete at its highest levels.