March 29, 2010
UFC's toughest opponentFaces Ontario political system that doesn't care about the sport
By ANTONELLA ARTUSO, QMI Agency
Some of Toronto's mayoral candidates are willing to take on the provincial government to bring the Ultimate Fighting Championship to the city.
Councillors Joe Pantalone and Giorgio Mammoliti have expressed interest in attracting mixed martial arts to boost tourism and accommodate its many fans.
"It's not for us to apply our view of morality on this issue," Pantalone said. "These are well-conditioned athletes who basically push their bodies to the limit as a boxer would, as an Olympic champion would."
As with other athletes, we should demand only that they don't use drugs and be in good shape, Pantalone said.
"If individuals and the sport are able to provide us with those assurances to our satisfaction as a community, then the sport has to be allowed."
Pantalone said it's not a sport he would likely watch, but Toronto is a diverse city that can accommodate a lot of different outlooks and activities.
UFC officials have been lobbying the provincial government for permission to hold matches in Ontario -- in particular, a large event in Toronto.
But the UFC is up against an opponent that can't be conquered with a well-placed kick -- political indifference.
Premier Dalton McGuinty repeated his long-standing message this past week that it's not a priority for his government.
"It's just not on the agenda for us right now," McGuinty said.
Mammoliti said the province is "asleep at the switch" because a UFC event would draw tens of thousands of visitors from throughout southern Ontario and the U.S.
"There's no reason whatsoever in my opinion that it shouldn't be allowed in Toronto," he said. "If I become the mayor of the city, the first thing I'd do is pass a resolution that would ask the province to reconsider. And if that doesn't work, I'd try to figure out how to bring it here anyway."
Mayoral candidate Rob Ford said he can't see any good reason the UFC should be frozen out.
An event that can bring in 50,000-100,000 fans would be a boon to businesses, he said.
"I don't doubt it's controversial. I don't like to see two people try to kill each other inside a cage. Some people do -- but I don't think the majority of people like to see that," Ford said. "But if there's money to be made, and it's legal, no one's forcing you to watch it. It's your prerogative if you choose to watch it or not."
The two political heavyweights in the mayoral campaign, George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi, are not known for pulling verbal punches but neither Liberal wanted to be drawn into the debate.
"As you said, the province has the ultimate say on whether UFC is allowed, so it's purely hypothetical at this point to talk about what Toronto could or couldn't do with UFC," Smitherman said in an e-mail response to a question. "What I'm focused on is what we can control."
A spokesman for Rossi said he doesn't have a position on the UFC and was not prepared to comment.
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak said the province already has a regulatory framework that allows other martial arts.
"If I were premier, it would have happened by now," Hudak said. "All this requires is directing the consumer minister to make it happen, just as it has in five other provinces, in 41 states and counting."
At a UFC event in Montreal last year, 42% of the spectators were from Ontario, Hudak said.
The province can bring these dollars to Toronto and other Ontario cities or it can watch them drive across Hwy. 401 into Quebec, or across the border to Michigan, he said.
"The bottom line here is that we have Dalton McGuinty who has increasingly become the nanny premier," Hudak said. "This guy wants to tell us what kind of dogs we can own, what kind of snacks we can give our kids to take to school, what kind of products we can use on our lawn and now he wants to tell us what kind of sports we can watch in our province."
UFC President Dana White was in Toronto Tuesday to promote UFC 111 which was held in New Jersey on Saturday.
White said he's taking comfort that McGuinty didn't completely rule out the UFC in his public statements.
"It's not at the top of his list right now and it shouldn't be -- we're probably in the worst economic situation in the history of the world," White said. "But what he didn't say is, 'it's not on my list.' At one time that was his position. He didn't want to hear about mixed martial arts."