THE death of Portuguese fighter João Carvalho, because of injuries he sustained during a mixed martial arts fight with Charlie ‘The Hospital’ Ward at the National Stadium last Saturday night is a tragedy.
That he died in the name of sport, though in the case of mixed martial arts that definition has been challenged, deepens our instinctive sense of empathy and sorrow. That Carvalho’s death followed an all too prescient warning from a Dublin consultant neurologist about the level of medical supervision at the event, and the risk of serious injury, moves the loss on to a very different plane.
Professor Dan Healy, from Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, said last week he was worried that a serious injury at Saturday’s event might lead to a fatality. His dire prediction has come to pass. The unfortunate Carvalho died in Beaumont Hospital adding cruel irony to cruel tragedy.
The death will focus attention on the soaring popularity of martial arts competitions as spectator events. It will also mean that the safety procedures designed to safeguard fighters — or athletes if you really think that two people engaged in a more or less free-for-all brawl is a sport — must be reviewed. And it will once again raise the perennial question — should dangerous sports be banned?
If they were to be the first to go would horseriding follow suit as more lives are lost because of riding accidents than in any other sport or leisure activity? Motorcycle racing — and motorcycle touring — would fall outside the Pale too. There could be no argument about boxing, hang gliding, skydiving, scuba diving, skiing or the myriad versions of car racing. Such a purge would eventually suppress even the wildest and most tribal intermediate and junior football derbies.
However, that argument, and life, is not that simple. These sports are freely entered into. The participants know the risks. Indeed, risk is the spice that sets the adrenaline flowing and is a central part of the attraction. A ban would deny the most basic human truth too. We thrive on confrontation and even if that is watered down and described as competition the same principles and instincts apply. These are the very strengths that pushed us to the top of the evolutionary tree and to deny them is pointless.
That does not mean we are helpless, innocent bystanders. It is important that all sport is regulated, by its own authorities preferably, so lethal risk is minimised. Rugby, because of growing concerns about concussion and its long-term impact seems to be at that crossroads. Calls to disallow tacking in schoolboy games add to that debate.
One of the functions of sport, especially contact sports, is to prepare people for life’s inevitable bruises and to encourage a robust confidence, especially in our children. Sport mirrors the competition we all face going through life and any lesson it can teach us is invaluable. That does not mean those who freely follow João Carvalho into the ring should be left as exposed as he was, especially in an entertainment contrived for the amusement of voyeurs safe outside the ring. The indifference of exploitative promoters to the safety of ambitious young men and women cannot go unchallenged either.
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