By Jasmin Osman
Some people still find it hard to believe that mixed martial arts warrants female participation. However, Gosha Malik is amongst the heads at the IMMAF who would like to beg to differ. Fortunately, the actions of her and her colleagues at the Federation have proven the doubters wrong.
Born and raised in Poland, Gosha never believed that she would find herself calling England “home”, much less the Director of Member Services and one of five female heads in the IMMAF’s administration team. She reminisced on her journey into the world of mixed martial arts: “One of my colleagues at work was an MMA athlete and introduced me to the world of MMA. I never thought that my future would involve a career in MMA.”
Gosha dreamed of travelling the world, but she never thought she’d be doing that while also playing a big role in a growing sport. “In the last year, we’ve been to Kazan, Sofia, Prague, Abu Dhabi as COVID restrictions eased, but I’ve always wanted to go to Australia – and I still do. It’s still on my bucket list to see Ayers Rock and to cuddle a koala. Maybe the IMMAF can host an international championship there one day!”
One of the biggest things Gosha loves in her role as Director of Member Services is how she is able to contact people around the world, especially within the last few years. The ease of modern communication has grown the IMMAF by leaps and bounds.
“Hosting Zoom meetings helped boost our personal relations with each member country’s president; WhatsApp enabled us to create and maintain instant contact with federation leaders. Projects became available and could be completed much faster thanks to online tools. We don’t have to hide behind emails any longer, we can communicate directly and, more importantly, share experiences with others more easily nowadays. Who would have thought that this would be possible?”
Much like most of those involved with the IMMAF, she started working with the Federation as a volunteer – utilising her creativity from her professional experience in the hospitality and banking industries. The newness of the sport was what first attracted Gosha to MMA and her growing love for the sport as well as her involvement with the IMMAF. “When I became the Director of Member Services and started communicating directly with federations worldwide, I realised just how big the world of MMA really is. It completely blew my mind!”
The proudest moment of Gosha’s tenure as Director of Member Services was the launch of the IMMAF Women’s Commission alongside her colleague Hayzia Bellum. “It was a dream come true!” she said. “We were surprised at how quickly federations were setting up their own women’s groups and commissions after the inauguration of IMMAF’s Women’s Commission.”
Much like the rest of the world, 2020 was hard on Gosha and the IMMAF. But, rather than provide an endless shadow of uncertainty, 2021 provided hope – “IMMAF projects continued on and were even stronger than ever before. Federations worldwide achieved goal after goal, seminar and course participation hit all-time highs, and competitions started picking up around the world as countries started easing pandemic restrictions. It was so uplifting.”
Alas, challenges still remain. Due to the lingering effects of COVID-19, the IMMAF had to implement constant and frequent testing on all participants and staff. Although the precautions were important for the protection of all involved in the competitions, it also became an extra burden on the IMMAF’s resources. A whole year of limited to no training put a strain on not only MMA athletes’ fitness levels, but also their future plans. “But 2021 was a road to normality,” she repeated, in a hopeful tone.
Increasing women’s participation within the world of MMA still remains a challenge. While conditions for female participants never met the same standards as their male counterparts, the industry has definitely taken leaps and bounds within the last few years. Coaching female athletes remains the largest of the challenges the IMMAF faces and the push for increasing the number of female coaches within national teams remains strong. Gosha can’t help but feel tremendous pride to see more experienced, well-known coaches include their female counterparts within national teams.
“It’s the best example of addressing the needs of female athletes during competitions,” she explains.
“Women’s participation in MMA is still small compared to other sports,” she continued. “Lots of older girls never had the opportunity to compete until the IMMAF Championships kicked off. They could never find opponents in their home countries, but now they can participate on an international stage.”
But there’s still more for Gosha, the IMMAF, and their member federations to do. “Women still struggle to hold higher positions within member federation administrations. My dream would be to see one woman with a high-level position on each board.”
“I think for any branch of business I would say it does not matter if you are a man or a woman. But the IMMAF knows that MMA is far from being able to honestly say that, especially at the international level.”
Gosha is still hopeful that things will change for the better, and has a few words of advice for girls and women who are interested in joining the world of MMA:
“If you are an athlete and dream of getting into MMA, go for it. If you have admin experience, share it with your local federation — most of these organisations are working on a voluntary basis and helping hands are always appreciated. Plus, the MMA sport is still relatively new in many places and so it needs all the help it can get. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the smiling face of a girl with a gold medal, female judge or referee during the bout raising the hand of a winner.”
Gosha believes that women in general still need to fight for their place in the world, but on a different level compared to that of the 70s and 80s.
“The time for fighting for women’s rights was done by our grandmothers and mothers, we just need to get to work now and use their victories to our advantage. Just knock on any possible door you think you need to open and I wish you good luck.”