On 7 October, Northern Ireland Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín attended a meeting with Ulster Amateur MMA Association and IMMAF representatives to discuss government support for youth development through MMA projects and the furtherance of recognition for the sport in the region. The Minister’s proposed gym visit to ZK Dojo had been moved onto Zoom, due to restrictions posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
UAMMAA founder and chairman, Danny Corr, gave a presentation of his work with potentially “left-behind” youths in politically divided areas of Belfast. His Fight to Unite programme, at ZK Dojo, has a successful track record in delivering GCSE maths and English tuition, OCN level 3 coaching qualifications and personal development for young MMA practitioners. His acclaimed work has received governmental support, as well as support from Laureus Support for Sport and Fight for Peace.
Since then in partnership with Denis Rowan Associates, Corr has been working to develop a cross-border “Sport for Peace” project with UAMMAA’s counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, the Irish Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA), which will be based in Drogheda with backing from the LMETB. Through the latter formation of IMMAF’s “Peace Through MMA Commission”, with Corr as its Chair, the international federation is now further developing the blueprint to roll out through other National Federations.
Due to disruptions to gym activities caused by COVID-19, Corr detailed on the call how “Fight to Unite” has managed to continue its training of youths via Facebook and video tutorial. Project partner, Emmet Clerkin, outlined plans for work placements abroad for young people on completing their qualifications through the programme, which would further help usher them into the workplace.
The Minister expressed her concern about the impact of Covid restrictions on the mental and physical health of youths and personally testified to the positive effects that engagement with combat sports can have, even through virtual classes at this time. She voiced her support for the initiative, touching on the status of sport recognition for MMA in Northern Ireland, where it is currently not recognised by Sport Northern Ireland. The proposal for an All Ireland approach to the recognition of MMA was raised, since the sport also lacks formal recognition in the Republic, and MMA participants continue to train and compete across both sides of the border.
Participating in the meeting with Minster Carál Ní Chuilín and Danny Corr were: Denis Rowan (Denis Rowan & Associates), Emmet Clerkin (Director LLS Online), Peter Lavery (Head Coach Kyoujin), Jack Corr (Coach and Athlete), Tony Murphy (Department of Communities), Ronin McGinlay (Special Advisor to the Minister), Kerrith Brown (IMMAF President) and Izzy Carnwath (IMMAF Director of Brand and Communications).
IMMAF President Kerrith Brown commented:
“We are hugely grateful to Minister Carál Ní Chuilín for her insightful support for the Fight for Unite project and for the development of good governance for MMA in Northern Ireland. It was extremely positive to hear of her direct experience of the positive impact that engagement in martial arts can have in communities, and its power to connect with young people who might be ‘hard-to-reach’ or left behind. We, at IMMAF, are immensely proud of Danny Corr’s achievements in Northern Ireland, which are well demonstrated in the data he presented. This includes an impressive rate of young people obtaining qualifications through the project.”