Dáil hears of ‘old boys’ club snobbery about mixed martial arts

Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association running into difficulty on approval as governing body

Claims have been made the “old boys’ club” will not approve the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association as a national governing body because it is “not a sport and like dog fighting, does not deserve to be legitimised”.

Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews also alleged snobbery is a major factor in blocking the association from recognition. And he claimed the application process for approval is being used to prevent recognition of the association.

Mr Andrews said a freedom of information request revealed the language of “some of those centrally involved in the application process” as he told the Dáil of comments made comparing amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) to dog fighting and remarks that it was “pornographic, sadistic and voyeuristic to its core”.

He questioned how genuine the engagement was when such language was being used.


The Dublin Bay South TD was speaking as he, and party colleague Ruairí Ó Murchú, appealed to Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers to support the association's application.

Mr Ó Murchú said the association, which was established in 2017, “needs a roadmap in order to get recognition as a national governing body”.

The Louth TD said that it has been successful in its engagement with the Northern Executive but “it wants recognition on an all-Ireland basis”.

Both TDs highlighted the benefits of mixed martial arts in local communities. Mr Andrews noted a coaching and education programme in Drogheda which aims to provide support for young people to help them move away from anti-social activity.

The Minister told the TDs, however, he had no direct role in recognition of national governing bodies of sport. This he added is the responsibility of statutory agency Sport Ireland.

To gain approval the association has to apply for membership of the Irish Martial Arts Commission – the governing body for martial arts.

Death of fighter in 2016

But to do that its own international federation has be a member of the Global Association of International Sports Federations, a minimum requirement Sport Ireland also expects. Mr Chambers noted that the mixed martial arts federation had been unsuccessful in its application for membership of the global association.

Controversy around mixed martial arts intensified following the death of fighter João Carvalho in 2016. The coroner at his inquest recommended that the establishment of a national governing body for MMA be expedited and that in the interim it should adopt the safety standards used in boxing.

A working group established in 2017 had first recommended that the association apply to join the martial arts commission. But Mr Chambers said no formal application was made until last year.

But Sport Ireland has been in discussions with the mixed martial arts since 2016 and will continue to do so, said Mr Chambers.

Mr Andrews expressed his concerns about how sincere the central players are and Mr Ó Murchú said safety remains paramount for the association, which believes it is “an obstacle being put up unnecessarily”.

The Minister said Sport Ireland last month agreed to restart the work of the working group with the same independent chairman, Prof Jack Anderson, and independent facilitator Morgan Buckley and to support further meetings between the martial arts commission and the association, starting next month.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times