In a recent interview with MMA Junkie, UFC’s Joe Carr (senior vice president and head of content and international), referenced IMMAF’s work towards Olympic recognition for MMA and the contribution of IMMAF’s members worldwide. He also vocalised his expectation of seeing MMA debut in the Olympic Games in 2028 – a realisation of IMMAF’s long term vision.
immaf.org caught up on the subject with IMMAF President, Kerrith Brown:
How realistic are Amateur MMA’s chances for 2028?
MMA’s chances are looking up. Until last month, the bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games was a two-horse race between Paris and Los Angeles. The host city matters because it has the power to elect non-Olympic sports into the Games programme as demonstration sports. For example, Tokyo 2020 will feature baseball, skateboarding and surfing. It is as a demonstration sport that we would expect MMA to debut.
It would certainly have been bad news for MMA, if France had defeated LA in its bid for the Games. MMA competition is outlawed in France and has fierce opposition from French Judo which is very powerful there. An interesting sea change occurred in July, when the IOC proposed to bring the bid race to a win:win finish, with the simultaneous allocation of the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games to Los Angeles and Paris. Los Angeles has since opted to host the 2028 edition of the Games, leaving the 2024 Games for France.
Now a Los Angeles Games is certain, we believe our prospects are strong because MMA is a mainstream sport in the US and has a strong media, commercial and political presence. MMA is recognised under state laws there and in LA it is regulated lawfully by the California State Athletic Commission.
While we will continue lobbying in France and will push for inclusion in 2024, I am more confident about inclusion for 2028.
Why should MMA be in the Olympics?
MMA is a true millennial sport which blew up with the birth of the internet. When you think that modern MMA was only born at the start of the nineties – around the same time as the world’s first website – it is incredible how new media platforms have accelerated its growth, to the point where UFC sold last year for an estimated 4 billion dollars.
It has evolved into a sport of its own, with participants all over the world training in the discipline of MMA in dedicated MMA gyms. Its ruleset truly deserves to be recognised independently alongside other core martial arts, such as boxing and judo.
MMA has fired a spark among Millennial and Generation Z sports fans and participants – age groups the Olympics is failing to reach with its declining and ageing television audiences. This decline is a sad to see, as the Olympic movement promotes important values and a timeless vision, which should be cherished. But if it is to flourish in future generations it has to open itself to new sports and to the views and tastes of sports participants, communities and fans, which it is there to serve. These are testified to in ticket sales, audience figures and participation numbers. Social media also demands transparency and accountability from organisations, and a democratic relationship with stakeholders. For its survival, the Olympic movement has to acclimatise to the times.
I believe that MMA has a lot to bring to the Olympic Games both as a compelling spectator sport and in terms of the audience, culture, values and the energy it brings with it.
What would Olympic inclusion mean for MMA?
Seeing MMA in the Olympics in 2028 would be a symbolic achievement, in which IMMAF would attain its founding vision.
I say it would be a symbolic achievement, because for us the importance of sport recognition runs far deeper. Opposition to MMA has created very real barrier to us being able make the sport safe at the most basic levels. For example, in most countries, it is difficult to persuade medical professionals to engage with our athletes. In most of the world, MMA competitors are outlaws.
But to see MMA in the Olympics even as a demonstration sport, would mean that the struggle for sport recognition would be well behind us. It would set us on the path for IOC recognition and one day full inclusion, opening up untold opportunities and support for participants of MMA at national and international level. I would like to see a day when the world’s best MMA competitors can expect to compete every four years on the world’s most elite competition platform. It would be a defining moment for MMA and an accolade to our athletes.
What needs to happen next?
IMMAF needs to first and foremost attain recognition from SportAccord (now GAISF), who are the gatekeepers to the IOC. Until we gain that recognition we are not in the running. We have an application in progress and meet all required criteria, except for acceptance by the World Anti-doping Agency – which has been blocked by GAISF members. We know MMA’s opponents to include judo, Muay Thai and wrestling, which to us demonstrates a very clear conflict of interests. This is something that we are challenging and will continue to fight.
As part of our quest for recognition, we are also working to resolve our rivalry with WMMAA, another governing body for MMA. Only one organisation can be recognised per sport.
Without a doubt we will meet further obstacles along the way, but these are our immediate challenges, which we are tackling head on.
Finally, what would a 2028 Olympic debut mean personally to you?
IMMAF CEO Densign and myself both competed as judokas for Team GB in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984. It was both of our very first Olympic Games. To return 44 years later to Los Angeles to usher an entirely new sport into the Olympics, one which was born in our lifetime, will I’m sure be very emotional.
But there are those who have been on this journey far longer – August Wallen, George Salldfeldt and the founders of IMMAF, without whom none of this would be possible.
MMA reaching the Olympics would be IMMAF’s legacy, the legacy of the IMMAF Board, Committees and administration team, the IMMAF membership, our athletes and officials, our partners at UFC and all the volunteers that participate in IMMAF events and support our work. I have met countless inspirational people on my journey in MMA so far and to reach the Olympic platform would mark the culmination and celebration of all our hard work and commitment over the years.
This would not be IMMAF’s only legacy. In our journey for the recognition that will enable good governance of the sport, IMMAF is creating structures that will better the safety of and benefits to participants. The development of IMMAF’s Talent Development Pathway is a vast body of work, and this includes the development of Junior progression pathways and competition rule sets. We hope to launch regulated Junior and Cadet MMA competitions within the next two years.
The achievement of IMMAF’s Olympic dream would be an accolade to all our work – and more than that, to the founders of the sport and to all those who have contributed to MMA over the years.