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Legality of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) In India

Written by Bilal Nabi*


Mixed Martial Arts is one of the thriving sports in the world at present, but India is inevitably falling behind to gain its base and scoop profit from it. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a hybrid combat sport where participants are allowed to combine multiple forms of martial arts technique namely Brazilian Jujitsu, boxing, Russian Sambo, Japanese Judo, Tai Chi, and many more in single combat.[1] The MMA industry is worth billions of dollars and shows no signs of slowing down. For instance, the Fetitta brothers brought UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) for $2 Million in 2001 and sold it for $4 billion in 2016.[2] That is a billion-dollar loss for India for not recognizing and promoting MMA as a recognized sport. Inviting MMA companies to set up their franchises in India and easing the tax regulations on them by granting MMA as a legit sport status would allow India to enter into an untapped sports market.


When the Olympic Games were revived in 1896, ‘Pankration’ i.e. MMA was not included in the games which made an impression that MMA is no longer a sport. Gradually, countries around the globe began to ban MMA. However, the rise of UFC has changed it, as of recent, most countries have revoked their ban, especially the English-speaking countries, and recognized it as a sport and not just entertainment. Soon after, Asian countries also repelled their ban. MMA fights were recently been legalized in Vietnam in February 2020, and countries like China, Pakistan, Bahrain, etc. have already legalized MMA, whereas in Japan fights have been legal since the 1980s.[3]


MMA is not an illegal sport. However, MMA is not considered a sport in India, but as an entertainment, whereby making it an unrecognized sport, levying more taxes on it compared to traditional recognized sports. The state has no obligation to promote, develop or even educate the population, which hinders the development of a sport. In India, sports have entered at 33 entry of the state list that brings sports under state jurisdiction. But the Sports Authority of India under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is the apex authority which gives the Centre the power to purview sports. Any initiative by the state or the Centre will aid this globally recognized sport enter the Indian market which has always been predominated by cricket. These are the reasons why MMA is facing the problem to grow-



As per the 2020 Revised Sports Quota[4] Games list for Central Govt. recruitment, there are 63 sports including combat sports of boxing, Taekwondo, Judo; which provides reservation for applicants in the sports category, therefore these sports are encouraged among athletes. As a result, these sports gain motivated athletes who want to win prizes in national and international competitions, as this also assist them to secure a job.


There is no Act such as the Sports Act, which is in effect in India uniformly to supervise all the legal aspects of sports viz, antitrust, torts, contracts, fraud. The only official document similar to sports law is National Sports Development Code 2011[5]. This code gives different sports’ governing bodies complete discretion in the development of their sport in the country, e.g., BCCI. All these governing bodies are within the purview of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. However, National Sports Development Code 2011 is vague and underdeveloped and does not provide any special provision for foreign games to enter India. The Code of 2011 is also not flexible in giving recognition; Section 3.4 of Eligibility implies that there must be an MMA National Sports Federation body at the time of applying for recognition, and the Federation should have affiliated units in at least 2/3rd of total States/UT’s of India. National level federation is necessary for any sports; however, establishing such a federation would take years, and current perceptions of MMA make it even more impractical.


On October 26, 2016, due to moral reasons, France put a complete ban on MMA under new combat sports regulations, however, the ban was lifted in late 2020[6]. People consider MMA as too violent and lethal to engage in, but they do endorse boxing. There is a belief that MMA can succumb a person to injury. But the stats favour MMA as being safer than the sport which is recognized in France and India (boxing). A survey was conducted by the University of Alberta's Sather Sports Medicine Clinic, gave some astonishing stats that by a span of 12 years (2000-2013)[7], there have been 21 deaths in total in boxing, which is three times more than that of MMA in the same period and the same number of matches. It was also found that while MMA had a higher chance of being injured, the injury that resulted in death was 13.4 times higher in boxing.


There are numerous definitions of what is a sport; as Article 2 of the European Sports Charter(1992)[8] defines sports as physical activity performed in an organized manner, aiming to improve fitness and mental well-being by participating in competition at all levels, but this definition is vague as it even qualifies non-sporting games as sports. And Indian sports code does not define the meaning of sports. Global Association of International Sports Federations, formerly known as SportAccord classifies four essential components to qualify a game as a sport[9]- 1. Sense of competition 2. No solo supplier of equipment of that sport 3. No reliance on ‘Luck’ 4. No harm put on a living creature. Based on the first three essential elements, MMA qualifies as a sport because it is a skill-based dueling competition, commercialized and manufactured by various organizations. As for the fourth essential element, SportAccord further states[10] that mixed martial arts are to be considered safe as long as due care is implemented and no harm will be considered on athletes as far as great caution is applied.

India adopted the concept of ‘dynamic criteria for categorization of sports’[11] Due to this, sports are not judged based on their merits or their future but the results in international competitions. In Section 7 "Categorization of Sports" of the National Sports Development Code, it is stipulated that sports should be given priority based on their performance in international events such as the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth. And further stated in Annex XXXVIII, the main focus of developing athletes, recognition and value of sport, will be based on the medals won by sport at the Olympic Games. It is a regressive approach to deal with sports, emphasizing medals over the net development of sports. The sport of mixed martial arts will forever be undermined because it would not win medals for the country because it is not included in the Olympics.


Indian courts took a lenient action on the dangers of MMA, and could not find any reasonable cause to ban MMA in India. In Anoop Bahuleyan v. District Collector, Kerala High Court(2012)[12] petitioners approached the Court contending that an unsafe and unauthorized competition of Martial Arts(12th Asian Karate Tournament 2012) is being conducted by the respondents, who are the organizers. Petitioner prayed that a writ should be issued to stop this dangerous tournament at once. The court held, foremostly petitioner must substantiate their grievance that it is a dangerous Martial Arts Competition; they must establish that it is prohibited by any statute or law. In the absence of such apprehension, one cannot opine that the 12th Asian Karate tournament 2012 organized by respondents is a dangerous Martial Art.


India’s large population might be a predicament in national policies, but the same can be utilized in revenue generation by granting this unrecognized sport the status of legal sport. India has to take some necessary steps to build this industry - First, the Centre must lay down some foundations of sports law in India, making special provisions to attract new sports in India and promoting them. Sports have changed a lot since 2011, so must be the laws. Second, easing the eligibility criteria in Section 3 of Annexure-II of is National Sports Development Code, 2011, allowing sports that have been growing rapidly internationally to get easy recognition. Thirdly, all states must quickly enact sports laws as currently only three states, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala, have effective sports laws. Setting up different sports foreign franchises will be a fruitful business for the country as it would create tax revenue, tourism in the hosting cities, job generation in every field as an increasing workforce will be needed to facilitate these events and enhance the overall entertainment of the citizens.

* The author is a law scholar at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India.

(The image used here is for representational purposes only)


[1] Stella Nenova, Pankration, World History Encyclopedia, < > accessed on Feb 14, 2022 [2] Darren Rovel and Brett Okamoto, Dana White on $4 billion UFC Sale:Sport is going to the next level” ESPN, July 11, 2016, < > accessed on Feb 14, 2022 [3] Robert, ‘Where and Why Is MMA Illegal?’ May 1, 2020, < -why-is-mma-illegal/ > accessed on Feb 21, 2022 [4] List of Sports under Sports Quota, < at > accessed on Feb 18, 2022 [5] National Development Sports Code, 2011, No.F.23-2/2011-SP-1, < File918.compressed.pdf > [6] Michael Cantillon, ‘France ban the sport of MMA under new regulations’, November 26, 2016, < > accessed on Feb 14, 2022 [7] Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, ‘Combative Sports Injuries’, (2016) available at < > accessed on Feb 14, 2022 [8] Council of Europe, European Sports Charter, 1992, < > accessed on Feb 14, 2022 [9] SportAccord International Sports Federation, < en/members/index.php?idIndex=32&idContent=14881 accessed on Feb 25, 2022 [10] Id. [11] supra note 5 Annexure-XXXVIII F.NO 66/94 SP III [12] Anoop Bahuleyan v. District Collector Kerala High Court (2012), WP(C) No. 27876 of 2012


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