Kick in the teeth for the sport no one wants to regulate

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Bitter recriminations have broken out among the governing bodies of the sport of kickboxing following the death of a fighter at the weekend.

The organisations that represent Britain's estimated 15,000 kickboxers blame each other for a lack of regulation and for the power struggles and in-fighting that have led to the sport losing official recognition.

For its part, the English Sports Council, the largest of the four bodies that regulate British sport, said that concerns over the safety of kickboxing together with a "marked lack of unity" within the sport's governing bodies had led to the martial art losing its recognition by the council in 1990.

The body which originally sanctioned the fatal fight in Ulster claimed yesterday that it had withdrawn its accreditation after discovering that no doctor was in attendance.

Sean McBride, an 18-year-old amateur from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, died hours after winning his Ulster Welterweight title bout at the Glengannon Hotel outside Dungannon on Sunday. He collapsed in the ring after the contest and was taken away on a stretcher but died in hospital without regaining consciousness. He had not been wearing head protection during the contest and received a blow to the back of the head.

After the fight, Billy Murray, the International Sports Kickboxing Association (ISKA) champion, who is also from Northern Ireland, accused the four UK sports councils of failing to regulate kickboxing and allowing fights to take place without proper medical supervision and regulation.

Mr Murray attacked the World Kickboxing Organisation (WKO) for giving the fight its accreditation and targeted the Sports Council for failing to regulate the sport. "The Sports Council is to blame for this. We have been calling for this [regulation] for many years and they have been sitting on their backsides doing nothing. I don't think they understand the sport. I don't think they know how to categorise it - they are saying: 'is it kung-fu? Is it karate?'."

"I would question the validity of the WKO ... the WKO is at fault and the Sports Council is at fault. This fight should have never taken place without a doctor."

Mr Murray denied that the sport was unsafe. "Sure, you get a few cuts and bumps, like in any contact sport. But there have never been any serious injuries before," he said.

A spokeswoman for the English Sports Council denied that the body had not done enough to regulate kickboxing. "The history of the martial arts in the UK, and internationally, reveals a marked lack of unity within many of the sports, with a multitude of self-appointed governing bodies ... and a range of breakaway associations involved in continual disagreements," she said. "In addition to the multiplicity of organisations, the council had and has concerns about the rules governing safety in the activity. An inspection did nothing to reduce the council's concerns about standards of safety within the sport."

Yesterday, Phil Mayo, of the WKO, based in London, said that his organisation had removed its accreditation from the fight. "Initially the promoter applied for the sanction to be organised, which was given by us provided he abided by the rules, but when we got there we found there was no doctor in attendance, and that was completely outside our rules and we withdrew our sanction," he said.

Mr Mayo dismissed Mr Murray's claims: "The ISKA is a basically American body, it is absolutely minuscule in the UK. I believe that there is just this one man in Belfast who represents them," he said.

A third body, the World Kickboxing Association (WKA), based in Birmingham, claimed that it was the true governing body of the sport.

Paul Ingram, World President of the WKA, said that it was the oldest kickboxing organisation in the world and that the WKO was only a small body. "The ISKA - which by the way stands for the International Sports and Karate Organisation, whatever Billy Murray said it stands for - is more of a promotional body than a sanctioning association.

"At our fights there always have to be paramedics and at least one doctor. The fighters themselves are licenced and insured."