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Calls for more regulation of combat sports after fatal bout

SINGAPORE — The death of bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian after taking part in a celebrity fight last Saturday has led to calls for greater regulation of full-contact combat sports, in view of their growing popularity.

Pradip Subramanian (left), 32, died after suffering from “a cardiac arrest respiratory failure”, according to organisers of his bout with Youtube personality Steven Lim, 41. Photo: Asia Fighting Championship

Pradip Subramanian (left), 32, died after suffering from “a cardiac arrest respiratory failure”, according to organisers of his bout with Youtube personality Steven Lim, 41. Photo: Asia Fighting Championship

Singapore

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SINGAPORE — The death of bodybuilder Pradip Subramanian after taking part in a celebrity fight last Saturday has led to calls for greater regulation of full-contact combat sports, in view of their growing popularity.

In particular, celebrity matches — which are taking off in countries such as the United States, raking in profits for organisers — are often unregulated by sports organisations, which are focused only on the athletes.

Subramanian, 32, died after suffering from “a cardiac arrest respiratory failure”, according to organisers of his bout with YouTube personality Steven Lim, 41. The celebrity match was part of the inaugural Asia Fighting Championship (AFC) featuring some of the top Muay Thai exponents from Asia. The police are investigating the unnatural death.

TODAY understands that the AFC did not come under the purview of Sport Singapore (SportSG) or any national sports association (NSA) here. The organisers had to apply only for an entertainment licence.

AFC was sanctioned by the World Muay Thai Council (WMC), said Mr Mervyn Tan, president of the Amateur Muaythai Association (Singapore) (Amas), which is the NSA for Muay Thai in Singapore. The WMC presides over professional fights worldwide, while Amas oversees events involving amateur fighters.

“From our understanding (the celebrity match involving Subramanian and Mr Lim) was not a real bout as it was not even programmed by WMC,” Mr Tan said.

“It is a bout purely for entertainment and novelty held during the intermission. And for this to happen, we are truly saddened for the family of the deceased.”

Fans here also voiced their concerns about celebrity fights. While these attract keen interest from the public, organisers must make sure the participants are well prepared and have undergone proper training, the fans said.

Freelance writer Timothy Wee said: “This is still a sport, after all, and even if it was just a semi-pro or amateur fight, you must be both physically and mentally prepared when you step into the ring. It’s just dangerous otherwise.”

Subramanian had stepped in for the match with Mr Lim as a late replacement for singer Sylvester Sim, who bowed out owing to “insurance issues”. It had originally been billed as a grudge match between the two Singapore Idol alumni.

Apart from concerns over celebrity fights, fans and industry players also urged greater oversight for mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions held here.

The rising popularity of MMA worldwide is leading the renaissance enjoyed by full-contact combat sports of late.

Last year, New York lawmakers approved legislation that allows MMA events to take place in the state, making it the 50th and final state in the US to legalise and regulate the sport. The death of an MMA fighter in Ireland last year also prompted the country’s then Minister of Sport Michael Ring to call for the sport to be regulated.

Currently, there is no NSA in Singapore for MMA. There are several criteria to be met before an NSA is formed. The sport must be either an Olympic sport or listed in the Global Association of International Sports Federations before it can be considered for NSA status.

Stressing the need for a regulatory body to protect MMA athletes, Singapore MMA fighter May Ooi said: “Like it or not, MMA is growing incredibly fast worldwide.”

Said the former national swimmer: “Rather than burying our heads in the sand, we should move towards recognising it as a legitimate sport.”

Ms Ooi, who made her debut with ONE Championship this year, said the stringent medical checks conducted by her promoter are a good starting point. “We get examined from head to toe before every fight ... and after fights, we have more medical check-ups to ensure that we’re all fine and healthy.”

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Speaking to TODAY, ONE Championship chief executive officer Chatri Sityodtong said he would be “very open” to working with the Singapore authorities to regulate the industry.

Singapore Amateur Boxing Association president Syed Abdul Kadir agreed that there should be a regulatory body in charge of MMA in Singapore. “In boxing, we have one, in Muay Thai there is also one, so why not for MMA?” he said. “It’s a combat sport, and we have to look out for the safety of those involved.”

Asked for his views on celebrity bouts, Mr Chatri said he had no objections to such fights as long as the participants are well trained and have undergone rigorous medical checks.

“First-timers, before they go into the ring, must at least show basic self-defence skills, which come with normally one to two years of hard training, and even under those conditions, they should undergo an intensive training camp for one to two months,” he said.

Subramanian’s relatives had said that he had taken up the sport about three to five months ago.

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