By Jake Smith
Mixed Martial Arts Zambia President, Benjamin Bush has expressed his pride and gratitude after the Association he leads received government recognition.
Government recognition for an association is a monumental step, and for MMA Zambia to achieve such a feat so soon after formation is truly remarkable. Recognition is vital, especially for a developing MMA nation such as Zambia, to ensure that an association can regulate and govern the sport.
Reacting to the news, President Bush said: “Government recognition is huge. It has taken almost three years to achieve it and we are incredibly proud and grateful to the National Sports Council of Zambia for giving our application the detailed attention it deserved. Direct affiliation provides us with the mandate to regulate the sport as the sole governing body for MMA in the country.
“There is so much interest in MMA, if it’s not football then everyone is talking about Mixed Martial Arts. Young men and women either want to grow up to be football stars or be the next Amanda Nunes or Israel Adesanya. It is literally that big of a deal here. We want to use that momentum to empower the youth of Zambia, to use the sport for positive social change, to aid economic empowerment through sport and to create future champions.
“The recognition by the government provides us with the authority and support for the safe implementation of functional development and regulatory structures, in other words MMA ZAMBIA can ensure the integrity and safety of the sport whilst using the sport to make a difference. We can literally embed values, training programs and progression pathways into the sports development that will uplift young people and empower them whether they find success as athletes or not.
MMA Zambia were inducted into the IMMAF family in July 2020 and during this relatively short tenure, have made tremendous efforts in athlete development. With only three gyms in the country able to teach MMA to an acceptable standard, Zambia are focussed on educating their athletes on rules and techniques whilst simultaneously working to help their coaches achieve IMMAF certification.
President Bush admitted that he did not realise the full value of the amateur experience until he witnessed the work that is done on the IMMAF platform. He said:
“I never properly understood the value of amateur MMA until I saw first-hand the incredible work IMMAF have been doing and the platforms they have created. It is truly outstanding. I have never worked with a governing body as enthusiastic about grassroots sports development and athlete advocacy as IMMAF.
“Our affiliation to IMMAF provides us with a huge resource of sports development and sports governance knowledge. It allows us to access a network and learn from the expertise of others across the world. We have been working closely with MMA South Africa and their help has been monumental. The affiliation to IMMAF also provides us with credibility.
“IMMAF understands our desire to use the sport of MMA to change lives and they have embraced it. They provide us with technology, resources and progression pathways that can take athletes from competitors to coaches and onwards to gym owners and sports stars.
“Through IMMAF we can strive towards high standards of officiating and regulatory duties, and our national squad get the opportunity to represent Zambia on the world stage at the IMMAF World and Youth Games and at the IMMAF Africa Open providing athletes with experience and exposure. On top of that, as a member of the largest world governing body in MMA we can work together to lobby for the sport’s inclusion at the Africa Games and at the Olympic Games.”
Wanting to achieve success in the cage is a given, but President Bush has a much wider goal when it comes to MMA Zambia.
He is actively looking to help better the lives and tackle the social and economic hardships of the young people of Zambia, through mixed martial arts. He explained:
“MMA Zambia believes that the sport of MMA can change lives not just through athletic endeavour, but also through its inspirational qualities, the values within martial arts practice, the work ethic and sportsmanship within combat sports and the personalities the sport will create. With Zambia being a developing economy, the rich/poor divide is significant and many people live below the poverty line. This leads to various issues such as youth unemployment, children taking on the role of providers, street vagrancy, and many other issues that lead to fractured communities such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, GBV and much more. MMA can do its part to tackle these issues directly.
“We would not be a productive federation if we did not care about the communities around us. We want to use our platform to uplift others and we want to do it in a way that works with the government and their international partners to further their long-term agendas for youth development.
“The sport, and its popularity can be used to inspire others. We have developed a vulnerable youth program that uses MMA to tackle all the above issues and more, mental health, gender based violence, drug and alcohol abuse, literacy, entrepreneurship, etc – all through MMA. We intend to combine this into our sports development strategy encouraging the programs uptake across the country. We want to create role models for future generations. We want to make a difference and we are grateful to be working with IMMAF to realise our goals.”