A recent headline caught my attention. It was the tragic accident and subsequent death of Manus Kelly at the Donegal International Rally about 10 days ago. Mr Kelly was an experienced and well respected rally driver, not to mention a 3 time winner of the Donegal event.
Manus Kelly was also a recently elected Fianna Fail councillor in his native Donegal, rallying was his passion and I know from experience, Donegal people love their cars. Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin paid his tributes as did many, many, others – but at no time did anyone or any media ask the following question.
Should Motor Rallying be banned as a sport?
In addition to the recent tragedy, In 2014 a rally spectator was badly injured during one of the stages of the same Donegal Rally and in 2010 there was another fatality. Accidents, injury and death are part and parcel of being a competitor AND a spectator of this sport. And these examples are just from the Donegal rally. No-one is calling for it to be banned nor should they in my opinion.
So the logical question is – Is Motor rallying Safe enough?
A statement from Motorsport Ireland went something as follows.
“Motorsport Ireland and its affiliated clubs are recognised internationally for operating to the highest standards of motorsport safety for competitors and spectators in line with the best practice of the FIA (governing body)”
Manus Kelly was one of the best amateur drivers in this sport and yet he still tragically died. He better than anyone knew the risks and I dare say accepted them without question. The reality is that some sports and pursuits involve an element of risk and danger that is above and beyond what the rest of us, mere mortals, may think is appropriate – yet it is a nonsense to say that we should ban them. Motor Sport Ireland don’t feel the need to comment any further than the above statement on it’s safety regulations and MMA should be confident enough now to adopt a similiar approach.
Shock! Horror! MMA is a dangerous sport. As are many others here and around the world. The question for Irish MMA is not will another MMA competitor be killed. The question is will the sport be killed first.
In Motor Sports Ireland no-one is scare-mongering the community into believing there is a bogey-man just outside the window. And yet at every corner we are being told Irish MMA is just one death away from extinction.
What is also a nonsense and the biggest hypocrisy in Irish Sport is that we don’t treat MMA the same as all high risk sports. Whether that be Boxing, Horseracing, Rallying or even Rugby. Shane Ross isn’t going to challenge Motorsport Ireland because the minister prefers the open bullying of the weak MMA child rather than the challenge, of navigating Google Maps, having been dumped in a Connemara bog on Stage 4 of the Galway Rally. Metaphorically speaking of course.
Irish MMA has a guardian angel of sorts – Professor Dan Healy. He is a consultant neurologist in the Beaumont hospital in Dublin. I think it is accurate to describe him as a Marmite figure in Irish MMA. I have spoken to people who really admire and appreciate what he is doing on the MMA safety front, but there are also those who, if there was a transfer market in Irish MMA would happily send him out on loan to Motor Sport Ireland indefinitely.
The Professor Healy e-mail:
The date was the 11th of May 2019. It was a Saturday, James Price and Keith Cooper of Battle Arena UK and Ireland respectively were busy. Preparations for the first Independent MMA show in the Republic for over two years were reaching an advanced stage. Battle Arena 56 was due to take place in Treacy’s Hotel in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan in 14 days.
They had been down this road 8 months earlier in Navan. A tsunami of political pressure eventually saw the main show shutdown minutes before the event was due to start. The maelstrom even managed to get the main-stream press interested for the life-span of a tweet or two. Official Ireland and Official MMA Ireland won the day though.
Both Men vowed to come back. Both men were as good as their word. May 25th 2019 was the scheduled date and this time they were ready. They were in little doubt that the strokes pulled to get the Septemeber show yanked wouldn’t work this time. They were ready, armed with lawyers and a sackful of legal advice backing them up.
Alas though, the thing with the stroking industry is they never have a shortage of strokes at their disposal.
As you can imagine, there was much to plan in advance of this second attempt at lifting the siege on Irish Amateur MMA, but by and large everything seemed to be running smoothly. There was a small glitch with the on-site medical and safety services company that was chosen for the event. Their application to be licenced to cover the event had been lost. However they had resubmitted and expected clearance pretty soon.
An organisation called the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) are the people responsible for the issuing of licences of this nature. A rather fancy title but just think of people licencing companies that provide ambulance and emergency medical cover at Sporting and other events. More about these on a later date; They may well deserve their own article.
Anyway back to Mr Healy. On the afternoon of the 11th of May 2019 he got it into his head to write to the CEO of Battle Arena offering his ‘Help’ on Safety matters and asking for James Price’s help in return. He doesn’t exactly specify who he is representing in this e-mail other than to say he has ‘No Agenda’. That is the beauty of this correspondence it’s light on shedding light.
I’m told that you own Battle Arena. I am writing to ask for your help and
offer my help, if you want it.
I was working in the Philippines when you last came to our country.
Unfortunately i never got to make contact with you then.
I have no agenda I promise. But I feel it’s important that i express my
views because I’m the Neurologist at Beaumont and we will be the default
brain hospital for ambulances should a fighter go down at your event.
With my own eyes, I’ve seen two fighters pay for poor promoter
planning….once in 1991 at White Hart Lane (the magnificant Michael Watson)
and more recently Joao Carvalho.
Since Joao’s death, the Irish MMA community have carefully followed the
recommendations of (i) the Jury at his Inquest (8.2.18) and (ii) the
instructions issued by our Government.
Anyone who thinks these recommendations are invalid, did not see our efforts
in Beaumont to save Joao’s life, nor have to call and break the news to his
brother and children. I did.
At the Inquest, Joao’s family took comfort from ensuing recommendations on
(i) fighter safety and (ii) fast track recognition/regulation of the sport.
His children are currently suing the promoter in the Irish Courts (a
I understand you may be grievances with IMMAA. This is none of my business.
And you may not want to work with SAFEMMA ….events can run perfectly
safely without safemma.
But I beg you not to ignore the recommendations above…. even if it means a
little more work/planning and a relatively small amount more money.
Worldwide amateur fighters die every year from poor planning and cost-saving
retrenchments by commercial promotions.
I am determined there will never be another MMA death in Ireland. That’s my
motive. I have never taken or received money from a fighter or out of
We must all work together on this James. I have no doubt that you and I have
the same objective. And if you would like me to help, I will.
Is mise of meas,
Professor Daniel G Healy
MD PhD FFSEM
Royal College Surgeons
Beaumont Hospital, Ireland
This Email raises a number of questions:
Why is Professor Healy sending e-mails about and pertaining to MMA from his public hospital e-mail address?
We will see later in this piece that this is not the only time that Professor Healy has been found to use public infrastructure to pursue his personal Safety Agenda on MMA. I can’t imagine that he is acting on the instructions of the Health Service Executive.
The third paragraph of the above e-mail is totally misleading. One would be forgiven for thinking that the Beaumont hospital has some inherent right to know the safety procedures of a privately run sporting event. Does the Beaumont hospital require this of boxing, motor rallying and horse -racing ….or eh…… Dublin Bus for that matter. Do people not get care in our public hospitals if they don’t provide it?
Has the Beaumont Hospital authorized the use of it’s email in this manner?
Your guess is as good as mine – still checking. I contacted Professor Healy on the 21st of May regarding a general Interview. It would seem that his e-mail Inbox does not work as rapidly as his Outbox.
On whose authority is Professor Healy writing this e-mail? Did he have the backing of the IMMAA board of directors to send this e-mail?
Either IMMAA knew about this e-mail and encouraged it or IMMAA didn’t and have a maverick on their hands who they have little control over. Either way when people say IMMAA and SAFE MMA are totally separate it is hard to believe on reading this and further correspondence below. Why does Professor Healy assume in his e-mail that James Price has a grievance with IMMAA members? – He doesn’t by the way, he is just trying to run an event that no IMMAA club asked to be a part of. It is rather curious that he would say this which leads me to ask if there is an umbilical connection between SAFE MMA and IMMAA that cannot be broken.
Why is Professor Healy comparing the Tragic circumstances of two PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES with an event that was scheduled to be entirely AMATEUR , with a completely stringent and internationally recognised set of safety and competition rules?
This is like comparing a Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder fight with a 3 round amateur boxing bout in the National Stadium. This is what I don’t get. Why does he care so much about one particular non IMMAA sanctioned – MMA promotion. There are literally dozens and dozens of amateur boxing events in Ireland he could zoom his lense on. Or kickboxing. Or Muay Thai. The mind boggles at this one.
Why has Professor Healy NOT applied the same zeal to boxing as he has to MMA?
His e-mail quotes the tragic circumstances of Michael Watson and Joao Carvalho as motivation. They are about 25 years apart. What has he done in boxing during that time?. Are boxing promoters getting e-mails from Professor Healy for the last quarter of century?
What exactly are SAFE MMA IRELAND and do they have any regulatory standing in Ireland?
On The SAFE MMA website SAFE MMA Ireland are described as a subgroup of SAFE MMA. What does that mean if anything?.
FINALLY CAN PROFESSOR HEALY or IMMAA STATE PUBLICLY WHAT HE SAID IN HIS E-MAIL?
Events can run perfectly safely without Safe MMA.
Professor Healy and the Department of Sport
Since the Joao Carvalho death and possibly earlier, Professor Healy has been making representations to the Department of Sport on behalf of MMA in Ireland. Again it is not clear on whose authority he is acting. He doesn’t reference himself as an IMMAA member in the below correspondence with Ken Spratt of the Department of Sport. If he is acting as a SAFE MMA/IMMAA representative again I am not clear as to why he is not communicating with the Department through a SAFE MMA/IMMAA email address or his own private email provider.
In 2016, Professor Dan Healy seems to act as a conduit between the emerging Irish MMA Leadership and Officials in the Department of Sport and Sports Ireland. A sample of the type of correspondence is below.
The Subject Title of this email is THE MMA Peripeteia
Quite an apt title given what we know now about Irish MMA narratives!
The big myth propogated since Carvalho’s death and one that continues to this day is that the Irish government were/are never far from banning MMA in Ireland. It seems based on this evidence below, a complete falsehood. In fact the opposite is the case as can be seen in this Letter from the HEALTH AND SAFETY AUTHORITY (H.S.A.) addressed to the Minister in July 2016.
The H.S.A. in fact RECOMMEND that Sport Ireland and the appropriate state bodies explore ways to govern and regulate MMA with the view to the sport coming under the umbrella of Sports Ireland. In other words it is in their interest as much as Mixed martial Arts interest to get this relationship solidified. The last two paragraphs are the most relevant for MMA fans to read.
The Aftermath of Battle Arena
James Price did not respond to the Healy e-mail. His promotion follows the internationally accepted safety and medical protocols of ISKA. ISKA is around for donkey’s years internationally. Close your eyes and blink and another ISKA event will have taken place somewhere around the world. Just not in Irish MMA. One of the directors on the original board of Directors of ISKA is Bellator Supremo Scott Coker. IMMAA clubs have about 20 odd fighters with Bellator.
Less than a week after the May 11th e-mail curious things started to happen, a complaint that an unsafe event was scheduled to take place was lodged with the Garda, pressure was applied to the hotel from a number of official channels, Hold ups with medical approval, pressure on the Irish Red Cross ( the second safety and medical cover provider) …….on and on…and on……it went…..until….
3/4 days before the event was due to be held – The organisers were forced to cancel for a second time.
It’s entirely possible of course that it’s all a co-incidence. Maybe none of these individual things are related. Perhaps they were all just isolated events on a balmy week in May.
You might think that.
I couldn’t possibly comment.