The IMMAF family can look back on 2021 and be proud of what has been collectively achieved in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to fast-changing travel regulations, IMMAF postponed its recommencement of competition to the third and fourth quarters, but with strong support from our membership we ultimately pulled off three successful Championships: The Youth World Championships in Sofia, exceeded 2019’s numbers in participation and became IMMAF’s first live-streamed youth event. Fast on its heels came the European Open Championships in Kazan, which outshone all previous continental events in production standards, while the MMA World Cup Prague created a new opportunity in IMMAF’s competition calendar and provided an alternative European Championship for teams unable to travel to Russia at that time.
The high standard of performance across all events serves as testimony to the tenacity of IMMAF athletes and is a credit to the commitment of our coaches and national federations during these extremely challenging two years. It also promises an exceptional level of competition and some compelling potential face-offs for the Worlds.
IMMAF was strengthened organisationally by key governance decisions made by the IMMAF board in 2021 that included:
- Mandatory grades for youth participation in IMMAF events;
- Continental Championships to be restricted to athletes from within the continent;
- Women’s representation on the IMMAF Board of Directors will rise by 30% by 2027, in a year when many of our national federations have established their own Women’s Commissions with support of IMMAF’s active Women’s Commission.
- A new transgender policy, which will be reviewed periodically. As it stands, transgender athletes cannot compete in IMMAF events, for reasons of athlete safety. This is a complex and divisive topic across sport, and the recent guidance from the International Olympic Committee makes it clear that each sport needs to develop policies that are relevant and appropriate. IMMAF is not expected to adopt a “one size fits all” set of regulations. We, as a combat sport, must make athlete safety at our events the priority because the risk is here and now. At the same time, we continue to consider all options to encourage inclusion of the transgender community in the sport of MMA.
The overall output of the Board and executive teams has been notably enhanced by the expert advice of 17 committees and commissions that were established and reformed during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. We have also continued to work to meet the recommendations of our 2020 Good Governance Audit.
Working closely with our National Federations, all IMMAF’s activities contribute to our growing case for recognition by relevant international bodies. Becoming a World Anti-Doping Agency signatory after a rigorous application process at the end of December is a fantastic way for IMMAF to bring 2021 to a close and set us up for the New Year. The next step will be to gain recognition by the association of International sport federations known as GAISF. Although the GAISF recognition process stalled during the pandemic and opportunities for critical meetings were scuppered, our application remains live, and we continue to actively lobby. You may be aware of a recent proposal by the new President of GAISF, Ivo Ferriani, for the dissolution of the organisation: We do not know if this will be passed by GAISF members or yet what it will mean for IMMAF in our bid to be accepted into the Olympic Movement and we expect that GAISF will continue to exist until 2023.
We were pleased also this year to welcome new national federations into IMMAF representing Israel, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Guyana, Malta, Senegal, Sierra Leone, St Lucia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
And so, it is as a stronger organisation and larger global movement that we move into 2022, a year in which we can hopefully enjoy a full Championships calendar and will be honing our attention onto youth development as a priority for our sport, as we continue to fight for the recognition that we deserve.
To conclude, I would like to thank IMMAF’s staff and volunteers who have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic; our sponsors, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for their ongoing support, advice, and guidance; the IMMAF Board of Directors and our President Kerrith Brown, whose support has enabled me and the senior management team to be the best that we can be. I would also like to thank our national federations and teams for their ongoing support and passionate commitment to the evolution of MMA. If we keep up this momentum, we cannot fail to succeed.