By James Sweetnam
Women’s involvement in Mixed Martial Arts spans far beyond just those who compete in the cage. There are plenty of hardworking females who’ve worked tirelessly to help develop the sport in a variety of different aspects. Throughout the Women in MMA Series, IMMAF has highlighted the journeys of some incredible individuals – and this week, we’re looking at the career of Jaine Shah.
The governing body’s equipment manager has had an interesting route into MMA. Shah showed little interest in the sport until she went to university and began kickboxing. In 2009, having caught the sporting bug, she led a team of volunteers with Pro-Active London and Youth Support Trust and helped them develop their skills at a host of different events.
Shah opened up on her experience: “What I saw was shy individuals, people who lacked confidence and were looking for a way out of their shell. It was awesome to just talk to each person and build a relationship with them, which gave them a comfortable environment to open up and talk about some of the things they wanted to achieve.”
Following this, Shah developed a fascination with the level of planning and detail it takes in the operations side of massive events. In 2012, she worked at the London Olympics and overcame huge hurdles to develop essential expertise. Although the hours were tough, Shah kept persevering and loved every second of the relentless grind. She then continued on this path and applied what she’d learnt to her work at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Throughout her professional life, Shah has looked to break boundaries. The sporting market is seen as a male-dominated world, but Shah has broken the mould. She has used her utmost belief in her ability to circumvent the challenges that women face in the industry.
The Melbourne resident said: “People have told me I can be intimidating, which probably comes from standing my ground and being good at what I do. I‘m a confident individual, and sometimes that gets mistaken for having an ego.”
In 2016, she began hunting for new opportunities, and after browsing LinkedIn, she contacted IMMAF’s Events Director, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Prague for the IMMAF European Championships. I was expecting to be supporting an area of the operation but was asked to lead the equipment area, which was completely new to me. Life after that was never the same. I ended up managing the equipment and logistics department for IMMAF.”
Shah’s position revolves around her organising kits and assets and making sure that everything gets to the destination on time. This can be particularly difficult when IMMAF has back-to-back events, but she always gets the job done. The Australian based athlete equipment manager works on strategy elements focused on reducing costs and streamlining the operation to increase efficacy and incorporate the sustainability factor.
As amateur MMA has grown, so has the amount of work Shah has to do, which now includes developing kits for over 450 fighters.
She elaborated on the fulfilment she gets from the job: “The process started when there were far fewer athletes back in 2016, and as the years have gone on, the process has been tweaked to scale up the fighter numbers we now have at our biggest events. There is still work to do, to automate some of the processes and simplify kit distribution. However, keeping the kit secure and ensuring the integrity of the sport is met by the processes we have in place, which is key to keeping the competition fair and safe. I am proud of what I have achieved at IMMAF, but I couldn’t have done it alone, so I am also very proud of the hard work my team puts into every event to get the job done, and everyone who has supported me along the way.”
In 2011, UFC President Dana White claimed that we’d never see women in the UFC. But fast forward a decade, and now the world’s premier promotion is home to some of the greatest female fighters on the planet. However, if it wasn’t for one athlete, in particular, the sport wouldn’t be in the place it is today.
Shah said: “Ronda Rousey has put women’s MMA on the map, as it has opened people’s eyes to female talent. When speaking to female athletes at IMMAF tournaments, one of the most recent influences they mention is Ronda Rousey and her success. It’s important to have an idol, but bringing yourself and your own focus to the game is also just as crucial.”
The emergence of stars like Rousey, Amanda Nunes and Rose Namajunas has proven to women around the world that anything is possible. The women’s game is rapidly improving, and IMMAF is playing their part in developing the stars of the future, in addition to providing women with opportunities in a variety of different areas.
The University of London graduate explained: “IMMAF has a heavy emphasis on bringing females to the forefront of the sport and women having the same opportunity as men. I think this is important not just in MMA but in any sport. We have many females in IMMAF doing incredible work and also a Women’s Commission that ensures the inclusivity of female athletes is considered worldwide. In ten years, I’d like to think women in MMA will be just as big both at amateur and pro level. Time will tell.”
“MMA is definitely becoming more inclusive for women, whether you are an athlete or part of a federation in some capacity. Year on year, women’s participation is growing alongside the sport, and federations globally are coaching females. My advice to women is don’t be afraid to try something new and don’t be afraid of what may be a male-dominated environment, because you have the opportunity to be part of changing it and making heads turn.”