This story came to us from Paul Lazenby at paullazenby.com. It is a perfect example of what happens in cities all over North America. Unfortunately these types of “promoters” gives combat sports a bad name. I use that word promoter loosely when describing the person who put on this show. If you are truly a promoter and worth your salt, you would do whatever you could to follow the rules and work with City officials. You would have the best interest of the sport and the healt of the fighters at heart. Unfortunately someone didn’t get that memo.
This past summer, a partner and I contacted Surrey City Hall about running an amateur MMA and kickboxing show at Surrey’s Bombay Banquet Hall. A similar event had just been held in that venue by promoter Inderjit Bisla, so my partner and I figured that meeting with City Hall reps (which was not a stated requirement, but rather something we did on our own initiative) would just be a formality.
Present at the meeting were Dan Nielsen, Surrey’s Special Projects Manager, and as an officer of the RCMP’s Surrey detachment. My partner and I explained that, unlike the unsanctioned and unsupervised Bisla-promoted event, ours would be overseen by the Mixed Martial Arts Association of British Columbia, meaning mandatory and properly-done bloodwork, medical screening and recent fight history checks, as well as standardized and inspected gloves/equipment and proper medical facilities/personnel.
But as the meeting progressed I felt a subtle undertone of disapproval, as if the individuals we were talking to might have been ticked off that we actually had answers to all of their worst-case “what if” scenarios. The meeting ended amicably enough, but it wasn’t long before I received a phone call informing me that permission to run our event was being denied due to zoning restrictions. When I brought up the fact that a previous show had been run in that building, I was told that it too had been in violation of zoning laws and that no further combat sport events would be allowed to take place in the Bombay Banquet Hall.
Fast forward to last week, when I began to see advertisements for “Bisla Fight Night 2” at the Bombay Banquet Hall on November 18th. Thinking that the zoning laws must have been changed, I immediately contacted Mr. Nielsen to resubmit my own request to run a show there. The e-mailed response stated that:
“…the City has not changed any policies relating to zoning to allow for this type of event. This event would then be proceeding without the necessary approvals from the City. I will be forwarding the information on the event to a more senior level of City management for review.”
Okay, fair enough. I’ve got no grudge against Mr. Bisla (although I do take a dim view of any self-supervised combat sport event), but if rules are rules then it would stand to reason that his fight show would have to be moved or cancelled.
A couple of days later, ads for the event were still going out, so on the 16th I left Mr. Nielsen an e-mail message and two phone messages. No answer came back for any of them.
On the 17th, the day before the event, I phoned the RCMP’s Surrey detachment, but was told that they wouldn’t do anything to stop the show from happening. They told me to call Surrey City Hall’s Bylaw Enforcement department, who in turn told me that it wasn’t their problem either, and redirected me back to Mr. Nielsen’s department where I’d started.
Tired of getting the runaround, I left phone and e-mail messages for Mr. Nielsen stating that I would be writing a story on this incident. That, finally, elicited a response:
“Good afternoon Paul,
Thank you for your email and your voice message.
As stated in my previous email, I did raise your issue to senior staff and its is being reviewed. I understand that a city staff person will be contacting you shortly to discuss.
Sincerely, Dan Nielsen”
A couple of hours after that, I received the following voice mail from Owen Croy, Surrey’s Manager of Parks:
“…we’re aware of this [event] and our senior bylaw enforcement officers and manager of bylaw enforcement will be in attendance at the site and I believe have delivered notification to the business operator that they are not in conformance with the zoning [laws]. We take this seriously, and we’ll be following it up with a visit at the time [of the event]. If they decide to continue on with the show, we won’t try to stop the show because we don’t want to end up having some violent course of action on our hands, but we’ll be taking appropriate action for any zoning bylaw infractions that may occur…Paul, we understand your confusion and your interest in seeing this through. We don’t want to be seen to be applying two standards and we certainly take this seriously and we’ll be documenting whether or not they go ahead with the Fight Night tomorrow night and then taking appropriate action thereafter under the zoning bylaw.”
Croy’s weak excuse of wanting to avoid a “violent course of action” doesn’t hold any water at all. The feared “mob scene” that a cancellation was apparently in danger of causing would have been easily curtailed by a visit by the city and/or RCMP to the manager of the Bombay Banquet Hall at any time during the week before the event.
Mr. Bisla appears to be a shrewder promoter than me. It would seem that he’s either got friends in City Hall or else he’s just smart enough to count on the apathy of the RCMP and the municipal government to ensure that his events go on uninterrupted.
The fact of the matter is that Dan Nielsen, Owen Croy and the RCMP Surrey detachment HAD ONE TO FIVE DAYS OF NOTICE about a UNSANCTIONED fight show that they told me was ILLEGAL, and they all refused to do anything about it. Outside of being personally offended by the obvious double-standard, I find it frightening that they would be so cavalier about the safety of combat athletes that they’d willfully turn a blind eye to an event that might very well have had inadequate or even non-existent medical facilities and safety measures.
It would seem that zoning bylaws are very selectively applied in the City of Surrey. Hopefully no combat athlete will end up suffering for that the next time they fight for a promoter who enjoys sufficient favour to get Surrey’s powers-that-be to sit on their hands.
An updated Part Two will be posted shortly.
Follow Paul Lazenby on Twitter @MaulerMMA