“We are doing it for the love of the sport”
In the first of a regular series of personal columns, Marc Goddard, IMMAF’s Director of Regulatory Affairs and President of the English Mixed Martial Arts Association (EMMAA) talks about COVID Challenges and the optimism he feels for the future of the sport in England.
Doing what we are trying to do as the English Mixed Martial Arts Association (EMMAA), is difficult enough in times of ‘normality’. Keeping this together in the last 14 months has been tough but we have kept lines of communication open. The board, myself, the people on the peripherals, the coaches, the athletes themselves, a lot of people are still trying to march on behind the scenes and do the right thing.
The situation over more than a year now has been entirely detrimental. Competitions are on hold, events are on hold, gyms are closed, some gyms aren’t going to open back up again. There’s a reality check here for a lot of people. For some it was about their leisure activity, their pastime, their hobby was put on hold. But on the other side of the coin some of these business owners, gym owners and academy owners haven’t been able to come back from this and that is tragic.
From a UK perspective, from now on, you have to be optimistic. I personally can’t look at it any other way because if you stop being optimistic you start going down the road of acceptance or being defeatist . Everybody’s circumstances are different but one of the main things we wanted to do with the English Federation was to be positive, and the people who have been around the sport for a long time will understand how it is in the UK, and England in particular.
We are over 50 clubs registered with the English Mixed Martial Arts Association now. From an educational point of view, MMA is like an inverted pyramid, its upside down in as much as the sport is still a very new, young, formative sport. I explain this to everybody. You speak to the layman in the street or in the pub and you say ‘MMA’ they haven’t got a clue, as soon as you say ‘UFC’ they understand. It’s the entity, the brand is bigger than the sport. They don’t understand what MMA is and that is because we are still a very young sport, we are still trying to grow from the bottom up when sport usually is very much structured from the top, down.
The goal for EMMAA is to gain some form of official recognition but that’s not where the journey ends. If anything, it is where it truly begins because of the unique way the sport is set up in this country. In the United States, France or Sweden, you can’t just rock up and do as you please as you can in England at present. I could set up an event next week, in a venue, call it what you like, have a mixed event, whatever rules I want, no jurisdiction, no checking, no safety, no protocols, nothing; and that’s just the way it is in this country, people need to understand that.
The recognition process for this sport is a massive journey that people don’t understand and to make that more complicated, even if we waved the magic wand and the sport of MMA was ‘recognised’, by Sport England, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, what does that mean? Even if there is a recognised sport called MMA in the UK because of the laws of the land, there are still open issues.
I use boxing as a prime example, professional boxing is our closest relative, or amateur boxing. It is a recognised sport, it’s an olympic discipline, it’s a funded professional sport yet on the outside of that, in the UK, you have an absolute minefield of unlicensed, bare-knuckle, white collar events where people can simply do as they please.
There are people with good intentions, such as myself, the board and everyone to do with EMMAA who are working hard on behalf of MMA. We want to be able to give the sport the best possible start in this country so that in years to come, even when the sport has passed us by, the foundations have been set correctly for everything else to be built on.
I want to see EMMAA grow organically and at the right pace. We are working very hard behind the scenes to put things together, we are trying to break down the doors of bureaucracy, trying to get in front of entities like Sport England and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, just to let them know we are out there and that there is a collection of decent, like minded people who want to see this sport do well.
We are doing it with no funding, because we are doing it for the love of the sport. We have a duty to the sport as well, I want to make sure all the home nations are fairly and numerically represented at the IMMAF championship events.