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ARP chief stands by indefinite ban recommendation after UFC moves ahead with events

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UFC Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

On the same day the UFC announced it would soon reopen for business, the Association of Ringside Physicians issued a recommendation calling for the indefinite suspension of all combat sports events during the coronavirus pandemic.

The recommendation, posted below and viewable here, wasn’t in response to the industry-leader’s move, and the advisory body doesn’t have the authority to stop anyone from promoting fights. But a doctor representing the group sticks by the call to postpone all events until further notice.

”I hope folks understand, not just the physicians and the commissions involved, but also the fans, that it’s best to maintain this social distancing,” ARP President Don Muzzi told MMA Fighting on Tuesday. “Obviously, everybody’s disappointed – there’s no football, no basketball. But there’s a medical reason behind this, and really our only weapon against this virus at this point is to separate ourselves.”

The ARP’s recommendation comes after several prominent state athletic commissions extended bans on combat sporting events. There will be no events in California at least until the end of May, and in Nevada, where the UFC is headquartered, events are canceled until further notice.

On Monday, UFC President Dana White announced a bold and unusual plan to restart its event promotion schedule. The promotion’s April 18 pay-per-view, UFC 249, will take place as planned at an undisclosed location that will host weekly events for the following two months. Additionally, he said he was in the final stages of securing a private island where international fighters could compete.

Details on the precautions taken for the events have been scant. White has said he’s actively withholding the location to prevent any interference from “creepy people” and he said the less the media knows about the events, the better. On Monday, however, he promised extensive testing for everyone involved before, during and after.

Muzzi, a neuroanesthesiologist by trade, said he’d be speculating to make a definitive conclusion on whether the industry-leader can guarantee the safety of competitors and staff for its upcoming events. He relies on the CDC’s guidelines for the virus, which has called for increasingly smaller limits on gatherings before issuing a recommendation of social distancing.

”I suppose as the testing evolves, you could test everyone – it would have to be the day of the event – to see if they were positive,” he said. “You could also antibody test to see if they’re immune. I don’t think we’ve quite got that sophistication of testing yet.

”Right now, we don’t have the ability to get everybody tested, and it’s not quite that simple. With all tests, first of all, there are some false negatives. At this point, I still think it’s best to follow the CDC’s guidelines and distance ourselves from one another.”

In addition to the uncertainty of whether or not the virus could be spread at an event, fighters could require medical attention at an area hospital, potentially draining resources used to treat people with the virus. Muzzi said there is a high probability that a fighter will need treatment that can’t be addressed on site.

”We don’t want to add to an already overwhelmed medical system,” he said.

Muzzi said his Florida-based practice has been brought to a complete halt because all elective surgeries have been canceled as hospital resources are shifted toward the coronavirus. As an anesthesiologist, he is one of the people who perform intubations and care for patients in the ICU. But right now, he is out of work.

”Doctors are either working in a very dangerous, intense situation, or they’re not working at all,” he said. “We use 10 (items) of personal protective equipment for a procedure. Consuming PPE for 10 people would mean 10 people in the ICU couldn’t do 10 different shifts. Elective surgeries not happening now.”

Muzzi isn’t sure when promoters will be able to proceed with their normal schedules. He said in the current climate, everyone will have to adjust to a new normal where COVID-19 tests could simply become a part of doing business.

”However, if you put 30,000 people in Madison Square Garden, what are you going to do? Are you going to test all the fans as well?” he said.

Here is the ARP’s full statement:

The Association of Ringside Physicians has been actively following the recommendations of the CDC as well as other professional medical societies concerned with the spread of COVID-19, or novel coronavirus.

Sporting events across the world have been cancelled in response to the increased risk of infection and transmission by participants, fans, officials, and support staff.

It is our recommendation that all combat sporting events be postponed until further notice. This includes any and all events, regardless of the number of people involved. Any combat sport taking place during this global pandemic places the athletes, officials, and anyone else involved in the event under unnecessary risk of infection and transmission of Covid-19. In addition, combat sports athletes often require medical attention after a bout, and we do not wish to see any additional strain on an already overwhelmed medical system.

We continue to monitor this ever-evolving situation, and our thoughts continue to be with those who have been and will be affected by this disease.

Our organization remains steadfast in our mission: to serve, protect, and educate all involved in combative sports.