Just after 8:00 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, a group of students gathered on Forbes Field—the sports field behind McConnell Hall—to engage in planned, and spontaneous, wrestling matches. The event, which later moved to Parc Jeanne-Mance, drew first-year students from several of McGill’s residences, and even some non-McGill students.
Jordan*, who was present and who participated in the fighting, estimated that there were around eight fights and 30–40 people present throughout the night, while passersby accounts claimed they saw alcoholic beverages, and that there were 50–60 people. Another person who fought estimated that there were over 10 fights throughout the night. While punching was prohibited during the wrestling matches, Jordan alleged that one participant pulled their calf, but recovered quickly. Video evidence of the night that shows students circling and cheering on the fighters revealed that many attendees were not wearing masks, and not socially distanced. Jordan recalled the timeline of the night’s events.
“The police or the McGill security shut it down probably around 8:45 [p.m.] on Forbes Field and didn’t fine anyone,” Jordan wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune. “They stayed parked behind [Jeanne Mance] while people took the fight to [Jeanne Mance]. The police stayed, and I am almost 100 per cent sure [they] knew what was going on and seemed okay with it as they didn’t get out of their car and [instead] stayed between [Jeanne Mance] and Forbes field for the entire fight, which lasted [until] just before 10:00 [p.m.].”
In an email to the Tribune, Marisa Albanese, the Senior Director of Student Housing and Hospitality Services stated that the university’s administration was made aware of a possible gathering before Monday, but that they could not confirm the event took place.
“Security Services were dispatched on site, but did not witness any gathering,” Albanese wrote. “There were additional patrols that evening, and no incidents or gatherings were reported.”
Although the invitation graphic reads, “betting will be organized by [Royal Victoria College residences’] floor 11 casino,” multiple witnesses attest that no betting actually occurred at the night.
Awareness of the event was contained to small social circles in student residences before Monday, but after Instagram meme accounts picked up the story, the news spread quickly across social networks, reaching the McGill poll party group, Twitter, Reddit, the Students’ Society of McGill University, MTL Blog, CTV Montreal, and the Montreal Gazette. Jordan believes that the internet’s reaction to the fight night was misconstrued and overblown.
“This was not the infamous ‘fight club’ that major Montreal news sources are claiming it to be,” Jordan said. “This was a few guys wrestling in a park while people watched, and while it was [definitely] not the best call for Montreal’s red zones, the real story is, unfortunately, much more boring than the internet has made it out to be.”
While much of the coverage of the event has revolved around memes, tweets, and jokes, others, like Simon Kidd, U3 Arts, felt that the event was no laughing matter.
“The event demonstrated why some people were concerned when we learned that [residence] was going to reopen during COVID[-19],” Kidd said. “Even though the majority of students won’t participate in these sorts of events, 50 students did during [the red zone] [….] This is a global pandemic, and a lot of students are suffering socially by keeping themselves at home for the greater good of society.”
McGill’s COVID-19 tracker, which counts cases on campus and in residence, has reported zero cases since Nov. 1. Matthew Oughton, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Jewish General Hospital, said that gatherings like the fight night pose a risk of COVID-19 transmission through prolonged and direct physical contact.
“If someone had heavily contaminated themselves and their clothes, and someone else is wrestling with them, then it’s conceivable [that] there’s some degree of risk through that direct physical contact,” Oughton said. “I would not recommend that this kind of activity continue, especially while [Montreal] is at this plateau [….] We are running almost one new case of COVID-19 every minute.”
*Jordan’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity.