The 2022 IMMAF Africa Championships are fast approaching and it’s good to be returning following a difficult two years full of challenges for the sport in that region. During that time, IMMAF has welcomed eight new member federations from the continent with some of them preparing for their first tournament experience.
Having the Championships enables us to develop talent in Africa. There is a lot of raw talent among the nations there and they are underfunded, so having these events does support the recognition process for the national federations to go back to sports ministers and national Olympic committees. For this, greater visibility of tournaments is essential. In terms of amateur athletes, they are still being developed and we still have a lot of work to do, especially on the back of COVID. We are looking forward to seeing the talent come through and getting them onto IMMAF’s Talent Development Pathway.
Hopefully, the tournament will provide good exposure for the talent in Africa and will get the annual Africa Championships to get back on track. We will be using the EFC Performance Institute for the tournament, partnering with the most renowned professional promoter regionally, which is fantastic. It is good for them too as they can see the athletes coming through and not only that, potentially the athletes that may move on from IMMAF to go to EFC.
However, we are not here for one particular promoter. The job is to bolster the development of MMA’s athletes on every continent and Africa is key to that. The competition raises the standard of the athletes in terms of their development. The number of matches that the tournament format provides for is key, with athletes competing multiple times within a week as opposed to once in a number of months. The more matches an athlete can notch up against opponents from different nations, the more opportunities they are given to raise their technical standard. Through this, the level is ever increasing and we want all the federations to raise their level each year. It is important, therefore, to try to have more than just one regional tournament annually.
There really is a need for national federations to get support from their local government or their National Olympic Committee in order to effectively develop the sport from the grassroots. It is not only about competition but also about community projects and broader sport development.
Across the continent, there is a lot of raw talent, but you have to establish coaches and an infrastructure. It is important to get the structure right, from the bottom, to facilitate athletes transitioning from amateur to pro and eventually have another Kamaru Usman or Francis Ngannou come through. The talent is there, but it’s our job to create that structure. Coaches, equipment and simply having mats is a massive development and we need to try and improve on that. Having events like the Africa Championships will hopefully help ignite key members in government to see the potential MMA has and to give their support.
The next step is for national federations to put on their own national and club competitions. The long term goal is to try to create more events under different formats for the national federations to engage between each other, such as team championships and nation versus nation. We have got to encourage that and ensure that the national federations get the support they need to develop the next generation of athletes.