As the year draws to a close, IMMAF CEO Densign White MBE OLY, has reflected on the successes and challenges for the federation in 2021.
COVID has been disruptive with many events cancelled or postponed. But Densign said the availability of vaccines has been a “beacon of hope” for the return of competition and socialising.
In March, IMMAF held a week-long online technical seminar covering coach education, refereeing, judging, governance and anti-doping. A thought-leadership seminar was also run, with the central theme of weight management. Long-distance running legend, Paula Radcliffe MBE, was the keynote speaker, and the event was attended by over 500 participants.
Due to COVID, all events were delayed until the 3rd and 4th quarters of the year to allow the situation to stabilise.
The Youth World Championships took place in July, which was changed at very short notice from Instanbul to Sofia, Bulgaria. Team Ukraine topped the medal table.
The European Open Championships were held two weeks later in Kazan, Russia. Densign said “without reservation I think most national teams in attendance would agree this was the best IMMAF event to date, at least in terms of presentation and hospitality”. The host team, Russia, enjoyed the most success.
Prague hosted the first-ever IMMAF World Cup in September. Over 200 athletes entered the competition, which was a great opportunity for athletes transitioning from junior to senior competition to gain experience.
The IMMAF Board of Directors continued to meet online throughout the year, and were able to meet in person at the Prague World Cup in September.
Key decisions taken by the Board this year include:
- Mandatory grades for youth participation in IMMAF events. This ensures a certain level of skill for young athletes, improving safety.
- Continental championships will now be restricted to athletes within that region. Due to the growth of the sport and the high numbers of participants, it is no longer necessary for competitions to be open to everyone.
- A new rest period policy of 15 minutes between bouts for young athletes has been introduced.
- A new transgender policy was agreed upon.
- Women’s representation on the Board of Directors will be increased by 30% by 2027.
Commissions and Committees
The commissions and committees have been working hard on their respective responsibilities. Issues worked on have included athlete welfare, anti-doping, how to protect athletes from exploitation once they turn professional, and the IMMAF transgender policy.
The UFC Hall of Famer, Forrest Griffin joined the IMMAF Athlete’s Commission. He said: “The IMMAF has shown the power that MMA has to break barriers, be they geographical, socioeconomic or cultural and unite us in the most engaging sport in the world.”
IMMAF’s Women’s Commission has been very active throughout 2021. Several member states have created their own Women’s Commission, and Densign hopes every member will follow suit. He said, “I want to see the day when we have the same number of weight categories for women as we do for men”.
World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)
IMMAF has worked closely with the World Anti-Doping Agency this year. The federation has submitted a new signatory application which is now in the final stages of the Code of Compliance questionnaire.
Densign made it clear that: “becoming a signatory to the Code is not the end of the process but the beginning, and the overall process will require huge investment of both financial and human resources.”
Members will need to prepare for greater compliance with the Code, including risk assessments, education, in-competition testing and out-of-competition testing.
Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF)
IMMAF continues to seek recognition by GAISF. The process stalled during the pandemic and the Tokyo Olympics also took up the focus of key figures in that organisation.
However, IMMAF’s work this year with the World-Anti-Doping-Agency will positively contribute towards its case for GAISF recognition.
Densign said, “our members are the backbone of the IMMAF and I would like to thank all of them for showing so much courage and resilience during these challenging times”.
He added, “All of the IMMAF staff and volunteers have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic, and they deserve every recognition and credit for their sterling effort.”
COVID made 2021 another challenging year, but IMMAF still made huge progress across a range of important areas. The return of competition was a welcome sight to all, and the federation continues to develop the sport of MMA across the globe.