Pictured above: South Africa’s Chyrene Strauss officiates at FightStar Championships, the nation’s prominent developmental platform. By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran For IMMAF Events Director, Alistair Pettitt, the increased involvement from women at this year’s IMMAF Africa Open Championships was a distinguishable contribution to the event’s success. IMMAF, in conjunction with official national governing body, MMA South Africa (MMASA), hosted its third and largest Africa Open Championships to date, from 24-26 May in Johannesburg, South Africa. Alistair Pettitt, who had traveled to oversee the event’s development, praised the MMASA officials on a flawless performance. In particular, the women, who joined IMMAF for the first time, yet stood out in their execution of high standards and thus served as the personification of IMMAF’s worldwide gender equality goals. The team (pictured) included: Chyrene Strauss – Referee and Judge Kayla De Jager – Judge Desire Le Roux – Time Keeper Judete Coxen – Outside Corner Official On the surface, professional women’s MMA has experienced a boom period at the top flight level, thanks in part to former UFC champion and recent Hall of Fame inductee, Ronda Rousey, who blazed a path for women’s divisions to feature in the UFC where women now compete as some of the most high profile athletes in MMA. Despite this, women traditionally remain as a minority in the wider global sport, not just in participation, but noticeably as officials also. The IMMAF Event Director stated: “At this year’s Africa Open Championships, we had three women as certified MMA officials and one volunteer time keeper. Chyrene, Desire, Kayla and Judete served as a brilliant example of the officiating standards and functional gender equality under MMASA, and this did not go unnoticed. Not only did these women fulfill their roles to the most professional level that I have seen since we have been in Africa, I am also confident in saying that each of them would be a perfect fit in any international IMMAF event team.” Also with experience in running her own MMA gym, certified official Chyrene Strauss first gained national qualification in 2013, as a referee and judge with MMASA – South Africa’s government body for MMA regulation. When MMASA later became affiliated under the IMMAF, she sought further education and certification to the standard of the international body. MMASA Vice-President and IMMAF Board member, Raymond Phillips, explained MMASA’s commitment to a gender equality initiative, and highlighted the enthusiasm shown in adhering to the ‘Women in Sport’ program, in collaboration with the South Africa Olympic Council: “In MMASA we have had women engaging in the sport since the inception of MMA in South Africa. Due to our national politics, we wanted to get gender equality into our sport from the start. In our kickboxing federation, this was dealt with many years ago and MMASA sought to mirror this progression. MMASA wanted to make sure that women get the same treatment as their male counterparts in all aspects, from athletes to officials.” He continued, “I have noticed that women in many cases feel they have to prove and push themselves harder to be recognised in sports, so we at MMASA encourage women to be part of this exiting, fast growing sport. We have not been disappointed and we are very happy with the progress. Under the supervision of our Olympic body, SASCOC, we have established a ‘Women in Sport’ recognition program and I believe that we will be producing more and more female officials. The women, of who I have been privileged to work with, really show great interest and potential.”
IMMAF continues to support gender equality on a global scale. Inspiring developments continue with each passing year and have included increased opportunities for women as competing athletes, plus the growing number of licensed officials and a phenomenal response to cutman Joe Clifford’s education and licencing program for Seconds.