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Epidemiologist blasts UFC President Dana White for mishandling coronavirus protocol

Emory University epidemiologist Zachary Binney criticized UFC president Dana White's handling of coronavirus protocols after a fighter tested positive before Saturday's UFC 249. (Gregory Payan/AP)

The day after UFC 249 fighter Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza tested positive for the novel coronavirus, an Atlanta-based epidemiologist sharply criticized the mixed martial arts organization for botching proper safety protocols amid the pandemic.

Zachary Binney, an adjunct instructor of epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, posted to his Twitter page Saturday morning that the UFC and its president, Dana White, “were negligent” in restarting too soon, adding, “If this was your system working as designed, your system is bogus.”

The UFC had announced Souza’s positive test Friday, removing the middleweight from his scheduled bout against Uriah Hall for the event, set to take place in Jacksonville, Fla. Two of Souza’s cornermen also tested positive and, like Souza, were found to be asymptomatic.

On Friday, Souza wore face protection and gloves as he stepped onto the scale during the weigh-in. He was tested again, according to published reports, before fighter faceoffs, during which time White touched fists with Souza and came into contact with other fighters.

Souza, based in Orlando, had driven to Jacksonville on Wednesday and informed UFC officials he had been exposed to a family member infected with the coronavirus. The UFC subsequently tested Souza, permitting him to remain on the card.

Souza and his entire team, according to a UFC statement, left the host hotel to self-quarantine off the premises.

Video released early Saturday morning, however, appeared to show Souza failing to maintain social distance at the hotel around other fighters before the weigh-in.

“The response to this development is indicative of the effectiveness of the health and safety measures UFC has put in place for this event,” the statement read in part, with the UFC adding no other fighters had tested positive.

But in series of tweets, Binney questioned the UFC on several of its decisions, particularly as they related to social distancing. Binney, for instance, called the UFC “reckless” for allowing Souza to attend the weigh-in despite him having notified officials he had been exposed.

“No, I don’t buy this is the system working as designed and proof [the UFC and Dana White] are being responsible,” Binney tweeted.

During Saturday night’s event, The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the participation agreement, reported that fighters could risk losing prize money or bonuses if they “suggest or communicate” UFC 249 is being conducted without proper safety precautions. White denied to Yahoo Sports that any fighters would be subject to punishments if they said anything about UFC that was a true statement.

“If a fighter says something that isn’t true — if he says we didn’t test anyone for this — that would [violate the agreement],” White said, per Yahoo Sports. “But if he said something that was true, his opinion, then that is different.”

UFC 249 is the first of three events this week, with approval from the Florida State Boxing Commission, planned for Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena. Saturday’s pay-per-view card on ESPN features a headline bout between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje for the interim lightweight championship.

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