Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Is there an ethical case against MMA?

Joanna Jedrzejczyk (L) vs. Valerie Letourneau (R) in UFC 193
Prompted by the recent UFC show in Melbourne, I've a piece in the Canberra Times on mixed martial arts: 'UFC 193: Why cage fighting is cruel and objectionable, but still alluring'.

This is not my title, by the way--I don't think MMA is necessarily cruel or alluring (though fighters and fights be both). My aim was to ask whether or not there is a good ethical case against MMA. I don't think there is, but I'm open to reasonable, well-evidenced arguments--particularly against MMA as a professional spectator sport. A sample:
This kind of violence is still controversial, and not because women were involved. Gender is irrelevant to this particular question, although it's worth noting that their physical prowess was unquestionable. What's troublesome for many is the spectacle itself: public, brutal, hand-to-hand combat. Is there a robust ethical case against MMA? 
The most obvious charge is that is violent. Fair enough – it is. But this is a fact, not a moral failing. Violence itself has no inherent ethical value. It can be cruel, just, petty or tragic. There must be something about the violence that makes it objectionable. 
Much violence does not involve consent: it is a form of domination, which reproduces asymmetries​ of power. But these UFC fighters are consenting adults, specifically trained for this sport. They are professional athletes, not victims, and it is patronising to deprive them of their agency. If there is exploitation in the industry, this is cause for industrial relations reform, not blanket condemnation of the sport itself. 
There are certainly risks involved in combat sports. While victor Holly Holm celebrated and gave interviews, Rousey was in hospital with a split lip and concussion. Even the winners, like meticulous Polish striker Joanna Jedrzejczyk​, can look set-upon afterwards. But according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the martial arts have a much lower injury rate than all codes of football, horse riding, and basketball. Some of the most dangerous pursuits, by severity and hospital stay, are sports like cycling, skateboarding, roller-skating and quad-biking.
(Photo: Getty Images / Quinn Rooney)

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