Mixed Martial Arts has effectively been banned in France.
In a report released yesterday titled, “Decree relating to technical regulations and security for public combat sport events,” the French Sports Ministry laid out a series of guidelines and prohibitions that, while never mentioning MMA by name, would make the presentation of the sport nearly impossible. In response, the country’s national MMA federation, the CFMMA, has vowed to challenge the ministry’s decision in court.
While many of the techniques outlawed under the new guidelines have been prohibited under the Unified Rules of MMA for years—including headbutts, blows to the genitals and the back of the head, insertion of fingers into orifices, biting, hair-pulling, and tossing opponents out of the ring—the others would likely neuter the sport. In particular the ministry’s ban on ground-and-pound (in their words, “punches, kicks or strikes with the knees against a fighter on the ground”) seems designed to foreclose on the possibility of legal MMA fights in France. The report also outlaws the use of elbows.
The Ministry also used the document to continue its long, bizarre war against cages. Under the new guidelines, all fights must “take place on a carpet or in a ring with three or four ropes. The corners of the ring will be protected.”
CFMMA President Bertrand Amoussou lashed out at the report, calling it “disrespectful.”
“The Ministry takes us for idiots,” Amoussou told L’Express. “All countries have recognised MMA in Europe, except France and Norway. … I hoped it would not come to this but the CFMMA will launch a legal action to contest this decree.”
The struggle for the soul of MMA in France (or for the soul of France in the face of MMA, depending on your particular point of view) has been going on for years, and many see yesterday’s report as simply the latest shot fired by the powerful French Judo Federation and the European Judo Union, which many MMA supporters in the country believe have it in for MMA and which wield an inordinate amount of influence over the French Sports Ministry.
Last year the EJU removed the European Judo Championships from their scheduled site in Glasgow, Scotland, over the British Judo Association’s sponsorship arrangement with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, claiming the partnership “did not meet EJU values.”
The rise of MMA seems to have kicked off something of an existential crisis in the judo world, prompting fear among officials that present and future judoka will be lured away from the quiet sophistication of judo and into the lurid sensationalism of cage-fighting. The language they use has become increasingly stark, religious, even apocalyptic.
In 2014, International Judo Federation President Marcus Vizer warned that a mass migration to MMA would signify a “spiritual contamination” of judo. Following the EJU’s decision last year to take the European Judo Championships away from Scotland, the group’s president, Sergey Soloveychik, told BBC World Service Sport that “MMA is not a sport; it is some kind of show.”
“Sport should have some human values and sports should help society develop human values. With MMA, it is not so,” Soloveychik said. “The spirit is to destroy your opponents by different ways and this is not good.”
And French Judo Federation head Jean-Luc Rouge took the catastrophic rhetoric a step further, saying that anyone in judo caught teaching MMA would be “removed” from the federation and “written off,” then claiming that MMA is a “refuge for jihadists,” making Senator John McCain’s late-Nineties attacks against MMA as “human cockfighting” sound tame by comparison.
Still, last September World Warriors Fighting Championship, a French promotion, exploited what they claimed was a loophole in the country’s MMA guidelines and put on the first-ever MMA event under the Unified Rules. In response, the French authorities, with the support of the 500,000-member-strong FJF, have struck back with all the wrath of god.
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