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French MMA broadcast ban lifted

France’s ban on the broadcast of mixed martial arts (MMA) events has been lifted.

The French Mixed Martial Arts Federation (FMMAF) has confirmed that the regulator Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) has agreed to lift the ban following years of disputes.

MMA was banned in 2016, with the French government refusing to recognise the FMMAF as an official sporting body. The broadcast of MMA events has been banned for more than 15 years.

In 2016, regulators drew up a distinction between boxing bouts “in a ring with three or four ropes” and other forms of combat sports – though MMA was never mentioned by name. Anti-MMA sentiment was also lobbied to regulators by the influential French Judo Federation, which has said that anyone caught teaching MMA would be banned from the sport, while the body’s head Jean-Luc Rouge made the baseless and offensive claims that MMA is “a refuge for jihadists.”

However, this has now been turned around – no doubt in part due to the irrepressible rise of the UFC, which had revenues of nearly US$1 billion in 2019.

The ban on the sport was overturned in January, with Bellator being the first major promoter to host a professional event. Broadcasters were still restricted from airing competitions, with that ban now also being lifted.

The CSA has imposed strict rules on the broadcast of MMA, including the imposition of 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm watersheds for pay TV and FTA respectively, along with an age restriction of 16+ for viewers. Broadcasters must also employ content warnings about the graphic nature of the sport, and have been told to give greater exposure to women’s events.

MMA is actually an arena in which women have historically thrived, with the likes of Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes and Cris Cyborg all headlining big-money events.

A statement from the FMMAF said: “The FF Boxe and its internal body, the FMMAF, thank the Ministry of Sports and the CSA for the confidence shown in MMA and its project. We look forward to being able to bring MMA fans to events they can follow on their screens regardless of the containment measures in place.”

Broadcasters in France will now be free to acquire the rights to the likes of UFC and Bellator in what will surely generate a significant amount of revenue. For example, the UFC signed a five year deal with ESPN in the US worth £1.1 billion in 2018, while the promotion also has deals in place with BT Sport in the UK, Viaplay in Sweden and DAZN in Germany and Italy.

Tags: Bellator, France, MMA, UFC