Last night I couldn’t sleep for a variety of reasons. I rarely go to sleep early and never have been able to. I often have issues rolling around in my mind that refuse to allow me to rest. I usually listen to phone in radio shows to provide me with an insight into how other people think about the issues of the day, not to mention the tinfoil hatted conspiracy theorists. Often amusing, occasionally gripping and usually entertaining, I find myself drifting off to sleep with a smirk about the inner thought processes of the public at large.
But not last night. A “story” broke during the day about 8 year old boys taking part in “cage fighting” in Preston, Lancashire. Children, fighting in a cage. It wasn’t long before The Daily Mail and Sky news had video and pictures of the incident and the rest of the press followed soon after. Words like “barbaric”, “exploitation” and “child abuse” were touted around with clips and comments from people who were outraged. Mike Graham on TalkSport also discussed the subject while I was in a fight of my own to get some sleep. What I heard would mean that sleep was going to be a long time in finding me.
I am a mixed martial arts fan. I won’t go into great depths about what mixed martial arts (MMA) involves as it would take too long to discuss the immense skill, dedication and training that is involved, but I urge you to find out if you believe it to be barbaric. You can read many articles and discover that it isn’t bar room brawling at all and encompasses a vast array of skills and very technical moves. Luke gives a nice insight here. I would be grateful if you did this research if you intend to comment on what I have written to ensure that you are informed about the subject.
Competition in MMA takes place in many different stages, from traditional mats to rings and fenced areas, also known as cages. The cage does look gladiatorial and may heighten the exciting appearance of the combat sports within, but the cage has one primary function. To keep the competitors in the boundaries and stop them falling out onto the floor. It is purely a piece of safety equipment. Under no circumstances is the cage intended to prevent an unwilling participant from escaping competition. It is to prevent them falling out of the safe zone that is the competition area where a referee can instantly stop any actions. So don’t be fooled by attempts to tell you that “cage fighting” is akin to human cock fighting.
In the Greenlands Labour Club, Preston, they held an MMA event. For consenting, highly trained adults to test their skills against each other. Even the uninformed media seem to accept that this is, in the most part, acceptable as they have elected to participate. To add a little bit of showbiz glamour to the event, they had some of the accoutrements that accompany many sports, such as beautiful girls carrying cards signifying what round was underway. As they do in boxing. Cheerleaders, if you like. It was not a big event in the grand scheme of sporting events, but it was as big as the organisers could make it.
During an interval between scheduled bouts, two boys (reportedly 8 and 9 years old) entered the cage to engage in a grappling demonstration bout. This is where the ill informed outrage begins. It is clearly, to those with a basic knowledge of the sports, not MMA, but grappling and wrestling involving judo and jiu-jitsui. There is a referee paying close attention to every move and a medic on standby for any unfortunate eventuality for all competitors. The medic even dashes into the cage to attend one boy when he becomes tearful about losing. Every playing field, up and down the country, that hosts sports will witness young participants being upset when they don’t win. Rugby, football and even golf will have kids getting used losing as well as winning, and I can guarantee that there will be plenty of tears. There will also be more injuries per competitor than in jiu-jitsu and grappling.
The main points of contention seem to be revolving around the fact that there were adults watching these boys show off the skills that they have learned. Mike Graham, among many others, repeatedly suggested that this was “exploitation and abuse” of the children in question. Mike Graham also repeatedly expressed his disgust that adults had paid to watch children “beat the living daylights out of each other” for the entertainment of grown men. He even went as far as to suggest that the audience would have paid double if the event was held in a ring where “children could fall out all over them”. It is this part that astonished me.
The people in attendance at the event would predominantly fall into one of two categories. Firstly, the parents, supporters and families of the competitors. Of course they were there. Secondly, those that attended to see the adult competition. I find it hard to believe that a journalist with the experience that Mr Graham possesses, honestly wishes to suggest that, had the children not been involved in the event, the majority of the audience would have chosen not to bother turning up. Even worse, they would pay more to have them tumbling all over them? This is not only unsubstantiated, it is extremely offensive and somewhat defamatory, if not to everyone at the event, at least to the parents of the boys who were named. In short, the vast majority of the crowd wouldn’t have cared less if the boys competed or not. It wouldn’t have coloured their view on attendance one way or the other.
So why were the adults cheering and shouting while the boys grappled? Was it disgraceful baiting to ensure the audience satisfied its bloodlust? Of course not. I suggested an alternative scenario to Twitter. Take an 8 year old boy to Old Trafford and at half time, give him the chance to score a penalty while the teams are having their well earned orange segments. Of course the kid would jump at the chance. Does this immediately mean that the crowds at Old Trafford are guilty of paying to watch an 8 year old boy play football? Of course not. I have been in a crowd in the Gwladys Street End at Goodison Park when a young Everton supporter has been granted the chance to shoot at goal. Did we all turn our backs and ignore him? Of course not. And when the ball rolled into the net, the vast majority of the famously vocal Everton support cheered and applauded. That boy had the chance to stand on the hallowed turf at Goodison Park and have the Gwladys Street cheer. For him. And the same thing happened at the Greenlands Labour Club in Preston. 2 boys got the chance to stand and compete in a “grown up” arena of his chosen sport and hear a large audience cheer for their efforts. Of course they encouraged. The outrage would have been understandable if it were directed towards people ignoring this effort.
But unfortunately, the majority of the press have neglected to research the subject or the event in any great detail. Instead, they have leapt on the headline bandwagon, resting easy in the knowledge that they will not be asked to clarify the events that they report on with misinformed and invented vigour. They have revelled in the report that Lancashire Police were investigating to see if there were any issues regarding child safety. It was this fact that Mike Graham constantly fell back upon to support his stance. Victoria Derbyshire on BBC 5 Live reported several times that Lancashire Police had issued a statement that, having fully investigated the reports, there was absolutely no cause for concern for them to proceed with action. Nothing. Let’s see if Mr Graham gives this the same level of attention. And well done to Victoria for not just brushing this response under the carpet when it depletes the strength of the headline grabbing misrepresentation.
It is vital to state that not every media outlet and journalist can be tarred with the ignorant brush. The ever well informed Gareth A Davies provided his take on the story and does a great job in summing up the rights and wrongs of all concerned in this piece. Another take on the sensationalisation and hypocrisy involved is this involved article from Craig Devlin at Full Mount Mixed Martial Arts website. Getting the informed word out into the public arena can be difficult when there are large numbers of people that have predetermined thoughts about combat sports without the necessary knowledge to make a valued judgement. Once again, Victoria Derbyshire gives a more balanced view than many others when she spoke to a very eloquent Rosi Sexton who is a mixed martial artist herself and knows those involved with the Preston event. This excellent interview is at approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes on BBC iPlayer.
I agree with Rosi when she states that maybe the organisers should have considered the reaction from the media and the public if notice of the boys demonstration bout entered the public domain without being on standby to fend off the attacks from the headline headhunters. Unfortunately, the easiest way to have prevented this would have been to prevent the boys from participating and therefore taken away the chance to perform in their own Old Trafford? Maybe it would have been best, though I am disappointed that the blinkered views of grown ups take precedence over the opportunity for kids to feel like their hero for a night. If it had been held in a sports centre, rather than a social club, maybe we wouldn’t even have heard about the whole thing. Rosi also raises the point that the video was released without the permission of the parents of the boys. This is something that deserves looking in to.
I am an MMA fan. This is not the only reason that I want people to understand what is involved in MMA. I don’t want to watch 8 year old children “cagefighting”. I do want children to embrace sports (combat or otherwise) and be encouraged to enjoy themselves while participating in sport. After trying to explain to people, who were ultra aggressive in their views of this incident, that there may be more to the story than the blood and guts that they had been fed, I became the brunt of one person’s vitriole. A Twitter user who was also tuned into TalkSport, insisted that I should “grow up, little boy” and that I should be “culled for supporting and promoting child abuse.” Without effective education through the media, people like this will not see the irony in calling me blood thirsty and neanderthal while, at the same time, calling for my death. It can be noted that this character went on to demand that the death penalty is brought back into UK Law too. I don’t know why he is so angry and preoccupied with death. The person arguing against combat sports is the aggressor while the combat sports fan remains calm and reasoned. With media professionals refusing to give informed discussion on MMA, it is unlikely that views like this will be challenged any time soon.
It is dangerous out there. There are dangerous people. You might well be safer in a cage.