2020 launched with a trailblazing moment for MMA, as the sport finally secured a long-fought-for breakthrough in France with legalisation and official recognition under the French Boxing Federation (FFB).
March saw Australia’s Gold Coast give host to the 2020 Oceania Open Championships with the continental live streamed for the first time on IMMAF TV. Not only did the tournament showcase a significant rise in the technical level of the athletes, with the participation of world gold medallists, but also showed a boost in female participation due to dedicated support funding from IMMAF. Regional female standouts included New Zealand’s Michelle Montague, who earned Best Performance of the Year for her final against Jenni Kivioja of Finland, and breakthrough Aussie talent, Olivia Ukmar, who earned her first IMMAF gold.
The remainder of our 2020 Championships calendar hit the rocks in April, with the global onset of the pandemic forcing complete cancellation. The IMMAF team maximised the time opportunity to turn its attention to other areas:
In April, IMMAF launched a new website as part of its brand refresh and digital makeover. We upped our communications with the retention of a Social Media Manager, hire of a webmaster and investment in professional photographers and content creators.
That month we also initiated the MMA is A Sport petition, as part of our campaign for sport recognition, garnering over 20,000 signatures across change.org and private petition pages plus some significant news coverage. The petition re-sparked communications with GAISF, at which point we tapered off the campaign to facilitate negotiations.
IMMAF also worked to improve its governance and organisational structures: A 360 independent review was carried out to measure our performance against flagship international standards in good governance, with the report recommendations being implemented now. In 2021, IMMAF will undergo a further external audit by the Sport Integrity Global Alliance, as an Early Adopter of the SIGA Standards, with the goal of attaining the SIGA Bronze Standard in good governance.
2020 was also the year in which IMMAF moved its company registration from Sweden to Switzerland, the hub of international sport and home to the Olympic dream.
Our committees and commissions underwent an overhaul and an expansion, and now total 16 in number to include a dynamic new Women’s Commission and a Peace through MMA Commission, focused on youth-centred, social development projects.
IMMAF continued to increase its membership to 120 nations, of which almost 50 are formally recognised by their National Olympic Committee or National Sports Authority. New members welcomed to our family include federations in Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Guatemala, Kosovo, Slovenia, Netherlands, Barbados, Puerto Rico, Israel, Mongolia, Cayman Islands and Saint Martin.
In other areas IMMAF developed its Anti-doping Policy Framework to include an Anti-doping Education Plan and an Athletes Act, to be formally announced shortly, and partnered with the WADA ADeL e-learning platform. The IMMAF progression pathway, coaching and certification systems continued to evolve, extending down to programmes for 4 – 11 year olds, and coaches’ education moved online. We also notably brought to market the first certified IMMAF Fighting Area (MMA Ring), in response to demand from our National Federations.
IMMAF hosted two further events in 2020 as IMMAF Technical Seminar Week and the IMMAF Amateur MMA Awards moved online. The digital platforming facilitated the highest engagement we have had yet in either event, providing us with a new option to consider for the hosting of like events post-pandemic.
Not least, I would also like to commend the work of the IMMAF CEO, Densign White this year: The head of the IMMAF administration was listed for the Queen of England’s Birthday Honours in the form of an MBE, was nominated for Leading Man in the Fighters Only Awards and was invited to join SIGA’s Task Force on Equality and Diversity in Sport.
All this work contributes to the realisation of IMMAF’s ultimate vision of Olympic recognition: I can proudly say that on account of our work and that of our national federations we are well worthy of that accolade. Unfortunately, underhand politics continued to shape decision-making at GAISF and we were disappointed in June again when GAISF rejected IMMAF’s application for a second time. Meanwhile, having postponed our legal case against WADA to allow them time to review and change their statutes (hopefully in our favour), the case now resumes with a hearing date set for January 2021.
Our journey, and that of many of you, has been difficult this year, but as described, we have been afforded time for strategising, creative advancement and self-improvement. We have not slacked in our endeavour to meet the highest integrity standards, in line with the values of our sport. If we keep up the momentum, I have no doubt that we can obtain our Olympic dream within the decade. Central to this vision is youth progression, which will be core to IMMAF’s sport development in 2021. We will also be focusing on building our consumer reach and commercial opportunities. We should feel confident in the strong platform we have established and enhanced this year to head into 2021 ready to drive forward with a full calendar of events to greater media attention than ever before.
I would like to close by thanking WMMAA founder Vadim Finkelchtein and IMMAF founders August Wallen and George Sallfeldt for their unending commitment to our unified vision. I am grateful to the Presidents and Members of our National Federations for their unwavering support and ongoing belief, especially in the face of hardship wrought by COVID-19. I thank the board, the CEO, IMMAF staff and volunteers for their dedicated work and loyalty. I am personally grateful for the support given by Lawrence Epstein, Denitza Batchvarova and Dave Shaw at UFC and well as Jahangir Riaz at Green Hill. And lastly I would like to thank our longstanding commercial partners UFC, Green Hill, Safejawz, Sportradar, MyNextMatch, Abingdon Advisory and new partner, Global Sports Technology, and our integrity partners, Safe MMA, Peace and Sport, WADA ADeL and the Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA).
I wish each and every one of you a safe and peaceful winter holiday period and every success for 2021.
Yours in Sport,
IMMAF President Kerrith Brown