On 28 January, GAISF (the Global Association of International Sports Federations) is set to make a decision regarding IMMAF- WMMAA’s application for Observation Status, as part of its longer term hope to become a full member of the organisation. This is not only an essential step for any sport wishing to become an Olympic sport but, more importantly, necessary for enabling development and gaining the support and access needed to safeguard members.
In this interview with immaf.org, IMMAF President Kerrith Brown reflects on IMMAF’s biggest achievements during his presidency since 2014, up to and including last year’s successful amalgamation with former rival WMMAA.
What excites you most about working for IMMAF – WMMAA?
“I love what we do: We have the opportunity and a somewhat clear canvas to build a completely new sport from the bottom up. No other sport is like MMA, which originated at a professional entertainment level in the early nineties and proliferated in the digital age alongside the birth and spread of the internet. Its cataclysmic rise in popularity has led to a mushrooming of MMA gyms and promotions worldwide at a grassroots level without any global structure or governance. This presents IMMAF – WMMAA with a great challenge.”
What are you most proud of?
“IMMAF can really celebrate the astronomical amount we’ve achieved in a short space of time since 2012. This includes creating from scratch and then implementing all the protocols and policies that a sport governing body requires, and also the setting up all of the right governance structures, working board and committees. We’ve established a global calendar of events that are run to the highest standard, had to grow and up-skill staff and volunteers. Perhaps the biggest challenge has been to galvanise the grassroots and encourage voluntary compliance, and to commercialise the whole thing so that we can keep the wheel turning.
“On top of all that, we have been going through the lengthy process of applying for GAISF recognition and ensuring that we meet all their requirements. Sport recognition at an international level or at national level cannot happen overnight. You need longevity and to have built the vast body of work that makes up the organisation’s foundations and more importantly to be representative. I think we have achieved this extremely fast.
“We have been privileged by the support of the largest commercial stakeholder in MMA, the UFC, and have also established solid relationships with other commercial stakeholders worldwide. But it has taken time to establish that credibility and to demonstrate that we are here for the long haul.
“Recently I’ve heard reports of people falsely associating themselves with IMMAF or pretending that they are suppliers of our Championships and so on. Frustrating as it is, I guess this shows that we must be doing something right and we are clearly after some years of groundwork perceived as aspirational.”
What in your opinion are IMMAF – WMMAA’s top 5 achievements?
I’m most proud of the rapid growth and expansion of our championships calendar. We have seven international tournaments this year, including one world championships, five continentals and our first ground-breaking cadets event for under 18s. This marks exponential growth since IMMAF’s very first World Championships and sole event of 2014. The talent pool is also deepening and widening dramatically, through its expansion of member nations, athlete development and also return medallists.
“IMMAF’s medical policies are world class in sport and it’s something we can be very proud of. As a young sport we have the privilege of being able to learn from other sports and to be very proactive in the furtherance of long-term health for our participants. I believe our screening and onsite medical processes to be world leading. We are blessed with a medical committee that is extremely proactive and forward-thinking when it comes to managing sports risks, such as concussion. In our policies and youth competition rules we are taking a pre-emptive approach through restrictions on head strikes, as we predict that the sports landscape will change quite rapidly in response to medical research.
“It’s not just on the medical side that we promote safety, but also through our education and licensing of officials, cutmen and inspectors, as well as the rigorous policies and process laid out in our Operations Manual for MMA Events.”
“Starting its journey as a style vs style, elite competitive sport, with athletes coming from other disciplines, MMA was born without its own roots. Over its first decade, it fast developed into a discipline of its own, combing the most effective techniques from its forefathers. With dedicated MMA gyms having blossomed worldwide, IMMAF – WMMAA’s job is to develop a progression scheme and grading system to manage and safeguard the development of MMA participants worldwide.
“We are very proud to have engaged Andrew Moshanov this year who is driving the coaches’ licensing and development. Andrew comes with Olympic and top academic credentials, plus a long background in establishing progression and coaches’ education in both judo and sambo – both recognised martial arts. Within the coming weeks we can expect to see the number of IMMAF – WMMAA licensed coaches reach the 100 mark.
“Having established the first progression levels for adults we are in process of addressing the unquantified participation of minors in MMA and to develop pathways for them also.”
GOOD GOVERNANCE & RECOGNITION
“IMMAF’s CEO Densign White comes with a stellar CV in the administration of non-profits sports organisations and charitable contribution to sport. Sport Integrity and Good Governance are important values to the IMMAF- WMMAA Board and to this end we have become the early adopters of Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) Standards. This means that SIGA independently audits IMMAF for its practices in Good Governance, Financial and Betting Integrity and they set a high bar.
“We have worked to build a diverse Board and solid committees and have some fantastic advisors. World expert Michele Verroken from Sporting Integrity is our Anti-doping consultant, and although we are not recognised by the World Anti-doping Agency – something that we are challenging in court – she has ensured that we nevertheless are fully compliant with the WADA Code and that we carry out doping tests at all our Championships.
“We are also proud of the fact that more than 50% of our member federations are now recognised by their local sports ministry or Olympic Committee, and a growing number of teams are coming to IMMAF – WMMAA events backed by government funding.”
“Last but not least, in our application process to GAISF, they advised that we needed to eliminate the rivalry with the World Mixed Martial Arts Association, as there were two applications in process for recognition for MMA and only one could be recognised. This seemed a tall challenge but one that we managed to surmount in record time. The amalgamation agreement was put in place within months of the request last year, with the full merger set to be complete by the end of 2019, with respect to democratic process.
“We are no less proud of our membership who have in some cases been required to bury old hatchets and unite with national rivals for the greater good of the sport. Kazakhstan and Germany are the most recent success stories. In all these cases we are seeing a strengthening of federations through a doubling of their resources, skill sets and membership. This is why I would invite any stakeholders or groups interested in taking a part in the global governance of MMA to reach out to us, because united we will always be stronger. And where an IMMAF – WMMAA federation already exists in the country, the numerous mergers we have facilitated since our amalgamation with WMMAA serve as testament to our capacity for bringing different sections of MMA community together and overcoming differences.”
“None of this would have been possible without the vision and exceptional commitment of our Board of Directors, who contribute their time and expertise on a voluntary basis. Nor would it be possible without the hard work and talent IMMAF – WMMAA Administration team, or the ongoing effort and support of our National Federations who are making great strides for the sport world over.”