The risk of injury for kids in contact sports such as hockey is bad enough.
But in Preston, England, boys as young as 8 are going for the jugular in organized cage matches, the BBC reports.
Hypervocal.com describes the sold-out event as a kind of peewee Ultimate Fighting competition, complete with a scantily clad ring girl parading between rounds.
Nick Hartley, father of an eight-year-old fighter featured in an online video, told the BBC his son was perfectly safe.
“He loves the sport. It's not one bit dangerous, it's a controlled sport,” he said. “Until he gets a bit older and he starts doing physical contact, kicking and punching, then maybe, but at his age it's wrestling, like a grappling.”
But critics argue that cage-fighting encourages violence among young children, especially with an audience of adults to egg them on.
The British Medical Association has condemned the event. Sports such as boxing and cage-fighting are sometimes promoted as an outlet for children to manage their aggression using discipline, a BMA spokesperson said, but added that sports such as swimming and judo “require discipline but do not pose the same threat of brain injury.”
The Canadian Paediatric Society is “vigorously opposed” to boxing as a sport for children and teens because of the particular risks of brain injury in children, The Globe and Mail has reported.
At the time, CPS spokesperson Claire LeBlanc questioned whether young children are entering combat sports of their own volition. “Are children begging to take part in boxing and mixed martial arts programs? Or is this something that’s being encouraged by parents or society in general?”
But according to Michelle Anderson, manager of the club where the cage-fighting matches take place, youth grappling events are simply misunderstood.
“We work very closely with Preston police and the licensing department and they were happy for us to go ahead with this,” she told the BBC, adding that the naysayers are “just people who know nothing about the sport.”
How young is too young to engage in high-contact sports? Can an event such as kids’ cage-fighting be safe under any circumstances?