By Dan Sanchez
Some Canadian cops apparently have nothing better to do than ruin the weekend for hundreds of martial arts athletes and enthusiasts.
Canada’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu championship was supposed to have been hosted in Montreal over this past weekend. As CBC News reported, “About 240 competitors, some as young as nine, were registered to take part.” But the night before the event, the Montreal police informed the organizers that the scheduled competition was illegal and threatened to arrest its participants and guests.
Break It Up
According to Canadian law, the cops complained, contests can only be held for combat sports that are “on the programme of the International Olympic Committee or the International Paralympic Committee.” The problem with this reasoning is that, also according to Canadian law, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is not a combat sport, since it involves no strikes (“an encounter or fight with fists, hands or feet”) but only takedowns.
According to the organizers, the commander in charge of the complaint “did not know that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) was different from “Jiu-Jitsu” and did not have any strikes in its matches.”
The organizers tried to explain the distinction to the officer, but since the complaint/threat was so last-minute, there was not enough time to ensure that the championship’s attendees would not be hauled off to jail. So they decided to just call it off the whole weekend, and postpone the championship to a future date and a different locale (hopefully one with less blundering authorities). Registered individuals who cannot attend the rescheduled event will be given full refunds.
So Much for Fun
Fiascos like this belie the trite saying, attributed to Bernie Sanders, that “government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” In this case, hundreds of martial arts enthusiasts were trying to do something fun and community-building together for the weekend, and the government stepped in, implicitly waved guns around, and forced them to remain scattered and apart.
Moreover, the government agents did so from a position of rank ignorance, failing to comprehend even the most rudimentary fact about the sport they presumed to regulate. As economist Edward Stringham elaborates in his book Private Governance: Creating Order in Economic and Social Life, private clubs are vastly more competent at regulating their members’ behavior and ensuring optimal outcomes than government regulators.
Not only do private associations have superior access to relevant, on-the-spot knowledge (both explicit and tacit), but they also have superior incentives. Private associations must keep their members happy, lest they see membership dwindle. At most, the Montreal Police will suffer some fleeting, embarrassing press for their costly gaffe, since their “customers” are not free to take their business elsewhere.
The affair also highlights the difference between the violence of sports and the violence of the state. When a Brazilian jiu-jitsu combatant takes down an opponent, no rights are violated, because both parties consented to the fight’s rules beforehand. But the Montreal police takedown of a scheduled series of voluntary fights was nothing but a capricious act of aggression.