One of Northern Ireland's most respected sporting names is calling on the new Stormont Assembly to implement new legislation for his sport - or face a rising tide of serious injuries.
Kickboxing king Billy Murray has warned that the recent explosion in interest in his sport has led to some unscrupulous elements forming clubs and running promotions, even though they lack the qualifications and expertise to do so. He believes these bad elements could seriously damage a sport. He also fears they'll lead to someone taking part being badly injured.
"Kickboxing has seen a massive increase in popularity in recent times," said the former four-weight world champion. "There are kickboxing clubs and so-called instructors popping up all over the country. These are largely young and inexperienced people who will try and cut corners on the safety aspects. This could be detrimental for all bona fide kickboxing practitioners and promoters - those of us who have implemented and who follow stringent health and safety measures.
"These measures are voluntary at the moment but there needs to be a code of practice ? and fast. With so much talk of all our bright futures, this is the perfect time for our Assembly to look at this."
Murray added that only recently one of the more experienced fighters he trains at his respected ProKick Gym was approached to act as judge at an event in Belfast. The fighter was not experienced enough nor qualified to officiate, but he would have been the most senior of the judges on the three-man panel. He declined the offer.
"That story filled me with dread," said Murray. "These sort of unregulated events - without sanctioning from proper governing bodies, without trained ringside doctors, paramedics and ambulances at the venues, without even basic health and safety ? are becoming more and more frequent. It just takes one bad injury - or worse - and the whole of the sport is tainted forever. I've worked too long and too hard to allow that to happen. It needs leadership from the sports council, and government now." Murray, Ireland's best known voice in kickboxing said possibly the city council could get involved as Belfast city councillors recently took the initiative and pulled the plug on a controversial Mixed Martial Arts event scheduled for Belfast's St George's Market.
The Last Man Standing event had promised "thrills, action and excitement " ? as well as a £10,000 payday for the winner of the eight man bill. But the council pulled the plug as they said the martial arts hybrid show was "not a recognised sport and that someone could get seriously hurt."
Murray added, "If the council can stop 'The Last Man Standing' because an event they deemed unsafe within city council jurisdiction then surely the City Fathers will understand our plight!"