Policy Analysis | February 2015

Regulation of Combat Sports

Sujit CanagaRetna

(Compiled February 11, 2015)

Most states regulate contact sports through athletic or boxing commissions, housed within departments of labor and professional or occupational licensing and regulation.The conclusion of this document provides a detailed breakdown of how the 15 Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) states regulate and oversee contact sports. Within the SLC region, Arkansas and North Carolina are two exceptions: Arkansas houses its athletic commission within the Department of Health, while North Carolina houses its boxing authority within the Department of Public Safety. Outside the region, the Nevada Athletic Commission operates under the Department of Business and Industry.

The Arkansas General Assembly transferred the state Athletic Commission to the Department of Health after a series of organizational failures within the Commission and the resignation of the chair. Minutes from the Arkansas State Board of Health meeting on November 8, 2012, show that the governor had asked the Department to consider oversight of the Athletic Commission, as well as the Board of Sanitarians and Health Educators (see page 6 of Minutes). Prior to its transfer, the Board did not undergo a sunset review, though the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit periodically reviewed the Commission’s internal controls and compliance.

Regulation of mixed martial arts (MMA) has progressed very quickly across the country, with New York being the only state where professional MMA still is illegal, and there currently is legislation in the Assembly and Senate to legalize the sport and establish regulations and taxes. As of late 2013, 16 states did not regulate the sport.

How Do Other States Sunset Commissions and Boards?
The Council of State Governments’ Book of the States summarizes sunset legislation in every state in Table 3.27. As sunset reviews pertain to contact sports, there are three states with sunset reviews of athletic commissions: California, Colorado and Maryland. These three reports provide a wealth of information related to how these states oversee the different contact sports. Two of these states (Colorado and Maryland) specifically indicate that the commissions should continue and, in the third (California), it is implied that the commission should continue its operations.
Combative Sports Regulators in the South

*In our analysis, contact sports includes a number of activities such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), kickboxing, boxing, wrestling, “mixed technique events,” full-contact karate, toughman bouts, “off the street” boxing, contact fights, martial arts, sparring matches and similar activities.