Authorities in Tajikistan have imposed a de facto ban on multiple types of combat sports and are instead proposing popularizing “gushtingiri,” a national marital art.
The highly confusing list of proscribed sports, as listed on the the State Committee for Youth and Sport website, comprises professional boxing, submission wrestling, unifight, K-1, various forms of mixed martial arts, arm-wrestling, something called “new full contact,” and pankration.
As the committee explained, while private clubs will be permitted to continue practicing the sports and participating in competitions, so long as they can raise their own funds, the disciplines will not be allowed in clubs funded by the government. There are 85 such premises across Tajikistan.
The reasoning provided for this partial prohibition is that the sports in question could cause physical harm to its younger practitioners.
Gushtingiri trainer Mahmadovud Odinayev, who supports the initiative, claimed in making his case that Tajikistan's Health Ministry had data showing that 816 children were rendered disabled by participating in combat sports. He did not provide any specifics.
“Their trainers didn’t go through the traditional sports channels. They learned combat sports somewhere abroad and returned with their belts and opened their own schools. They get children off the streets and teach them to hit one another. It would be preferable to develop national and Olympic sports,” Odinayev said.
The deputy head of the sports committee, Dilshod Nazarov, who won gold for Tajikistan in the hammer-throwing discipline in the 2016 Rio Olympics, said that 70 percent of the government funding now reserved for combat sports will now be redirected to Olympic sports instead. Half the remaining funds will go to “non-Olympic” sports and the rest will go to traditional Tajik disciplines. The amount in question was not specified.
Officials have also urged trainers to keep a close eye on the private combat sport clubs as, they claim, many of them have a poor understanding of proper technique. They have also suggested mounting an advertising campaign against these forms of sport as their popularity has risen swiftly in recent years.
In any event, the list of semi-banned sports is striking for how strangely it has been compiled. One discipline listed, submission wrestling, or “grappling” as the committee calls it, could conceivably be interpreted as including Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling, which are both Olympic sports. The committee also refers to UFC and Mixfight-1 as forms of mixed martial arts, although they are actually the names of private organizations that hold competitions.
There is also something odd in the fact that one of the supporters of the defunding initiative for professional boxing is none other than Mavzuna Choriyeva, who won a bronze medal for boxing in the London 2012 Olympics. Her argument was unerringly similar to Odinayev’s.
“We have a growing number of trainers who have not studied in specialized schools. They gather children and teenagers in basements and sports clubs which fail to abide by requirements on standards and they teach them how to punch with their fists,” she said.
But such is the vagueness of the sports committee’s statement that it is not clear whether boxing altogether is considered a suspect activity, or just specifically "professional boxing." If the former were the case, it is perplexing to understand why Choriyeva would support this move.
Like many other bans introduced by Tajik authorities, this seems poorly thought out and confused in its ultimate motivations. And the nebulousness about the funding also appears suspect.