MP questions BBC decision to broadcast mixed martial arts

Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
·2-min read

The BBC’s decision to broadcast mixed martial arts bouts has been questioned by the leader of the parliamentary inquiry into the management of head injuries in sport.

Julian Knight, the MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, is concerned whether “due diligence” had been carried out on the impact it would have on children viewing it.

The corporation announced last month that it had secured exclusive UK rights to the Bellator MMA promotion throughout 2021 on its iPlayer service.

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The chief executive of brain injury charity Headway, Peter McCabe, told the committee’s opening evidence session of the concussion in sport inquiry on Tuesday that, in his view, MMA should be banned owing to its “brutal” nature.

Knight, who has written to BBC director-general Tim Davie about the matter, said: “Given the risks we’ve been told about of brain injury as a result of cage fighting, we question why the BBC should be raising the profile of mixed martial arts and paying to broadcast live shows.

“Indeed, it could be said that the BBC was now a leading cheerleader for the sport in the UK.

“We’re asking whether the BBC has carried out due diligence on the sport’s safety and the risks of influencing children who are able to watch it. I know that the BBC is eager to connect with younger audiences but I question its strategy here.”

Excerpt of a letter from DCMS committee chair Julian Knight MP to BBC director-general Tim Davie
Excerpt of a letter from DCMS committee chair Julian Knight MP to BBC director-general Tim Davie (Handout/DCMS Committee)

In the letter to Davie, Knight pointed out that the decision to broadcast these bouts was “strange” when set against the BBC’s “thoughtful” coverage of the impact of dementia on former professional athletes.

Knight asked Davie for a response by March 31, the deadline for submitting evidence, and it understood the corporation will respond within the timeframe.

The BBC said in a statement: “MMA is a recognised sport covered by a number of broadcasters and like any sport, it is for the ruling body to ensure the safety of the sport.

“Our live MMA coverage carries clear warnings and is only available on BBC iPlayer. BBC iPlayer gives parents the option to set a parental lock, which restricts access to programmes which display a guidance warning to ensure younger audiences can’t access inappropriate content.”

Bellator has been approached for comment.