I have to admit, I have been missing sports. With people getting sick and dying at an alarming rate all over the world, wishing for sports of all things to make a comeback sounds too shallow. But for someone looking to distance themselves from the worldwide misery, sports mean a welcome distraction.
Luckily, UFC came through and was able to hold a major live sporting event in UFC 249. Hence mixed martial arts was the first sport to make a comeback after the coronavirus lockdowns ceased most, if not all, sporting events in the world.
I loved the main card. The highlights being the brutal 20-second knockout of Jairzinho Rozenstruik at the hands of “the Predator” Francis Ngannou, as well as the epic bout that saw the underdog Justin Gaethje triumphing over “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson.
Watching the in-ring action and the hype packages surrounding the fights made me feel like the good old days. A time when humanity had no threat of a killer virus looming over them. But along with that, it also made me feel really uneasy. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but I soon realized why things weren’t sitting right with me.
UFC 249 was a violation of some of the most crucial health and safety rules. Rules that we’ve been adhering to religiously for the past few months.
After coronavirus was deemed a pandemic, all major sports organizers were told to halt their activities with immediate effect. While many sports have the element of physical contact in one way or another, nothing compares to mixed martial arts when it comes to being the complete opposite of social distancing.
Not only are the participants touching each other directly, sharing sweat, blood, and spit while at it, they’re also inflicting inhumane amounts of punishment upon one another. Even without a global pandemic, this would still violate multiple health codes. And all evidence would suggest UFC be the last sporting organization to resume their activities.
But when you’re a good friend, and more importantly, a rich supporter of a president who himself likes a bit of showmanship, you can get away with things others can’t.
Dana White, president of UFC, has been a very vocal supporter of Donald Trump. Whereas Trump has included him in a group of businessmen tasked with advising the president on resuming the virus-stricken economy.
Besides being against lockdowns, Trump believes things should get back to normal as soon as possible, and is willing to do anything to make that impression.
So when White proposed to move ahead with his plans of holding UFC 249, he not only got Trump’s approval but also his blessing. It was in the form of a video message that was played during the event.
The venue chosen was Jacksonville, Florida. The state allows sports activities to be treated as “essential services” after their governor passed an executive order. After promising strict health protocols — laid in a 25-page document that included the prohibition of “all contact based greetings” and requiring all officials to wear gloves and masks — White was able to go through with the event without any legal or moral objections.
From the very first fight, all those protocols got thrown out the window. Commentator and interviewer Joe Rogan refused to conduct post-fight interviews remotely, insisting on shaking the fighters’ hands. The commentating team appeared without any gloves or masks the whole time. And there was an absence of social distancing throughout the event.
If you go back further to the face-offs, there were many instances of fighters and Dana White embracing, shaking hands, and fist-bumping one another. The commentating team ridiculed the health protocols during the event on multiple occasions and was clearly not taking any of it seriously.
Dana White appeared multiple times on screen without a mask or gloves to put belts on the title winners. Joe Rogan went as far as refusing a fist bump from Justin Gaethje, insisting on shaking his bloodied hands saying, “I don’t care”.
All this pointed to the fact that the fighters, the presenters, the commentators, and even the president of the UFC, had absolutely no regard for a disease that has claimed the lives of more than 86,000 Americans at the time of writing. Treating it as if it was some myth or an exaggeration.
Despite all that, you’d find few articles on the internet complaining of UFC’s blatant disregard of health and safety protocols. One reason could be the contracts of fighters that prohibited them from speaking up about the violations of UFC’s health codes.
A controversial document surfaced recently revealed that fighters could lose all of their earnings from the event if they choose to disparage UFC’s application of health protocols. Furthermore, reporters covering the event also claimed the language in the contract handed to them appeared stifling and felt they wouldn’t be able to truthfully cover the whole event.
TV personalities are an inspiration to most of us. If you want the public to follow health protocols strictly you have to lead by example. Sadly, UFC set an undesirable example with their casual treatment of a global health crisis.
With Dana White already planning to bring back fans to live events, and with President Trump fully behind such endeavors, social distancing might be on its way out of America much sooner than it needs to.
By Osama Abbasi on .