Words by Ott Tõnissaar, Board Member – Estonian Mixed Martial Arts Federation
Pictured: Youth MMA participants at Estonian MMA club, Englas, including some who have been selected for the Estonian National Team to compete in the 2021 IMMAF Youth World Championships.
On March 11, Estonia went into lockdown due to the worsening situation with COVID-19. All gyms and indoor sporting activities were shut down, while all outdoor sporting activities were restricted to participation by two people. An exception was granted for professional sports and Estonian national teams, who have been permitted to continue their training for international level competitions. However, this right has been granted solely for sports that are recognised by the Government of Estonia under the Estonian Olympic Committee, thus excluding MMA.
Since Estonian MMA produces athletes that compete on the international stage, with three European Championship medals and two Top 10 placements at IMMAF World Championships, the Estonian Mixed Martial Arts Federation has been quick to challenge why MMA should be perceived as a lesser sport than those recognised by Estonia’s National Olympic Committee. The EMMAF has been in existence for 13 years and has 8 established clubs with around 500 practitioners and 20 coaches. Since the sport of MMA does not receive government support, we have learned to get things done by ourselves and this is the first time we have been prohibited from practising our sport.
After many pushbacks to getting our national team athletes listed by the Estonian Ministry of Culture and the National Olympic Committee, which would enable them to train, we managed to secure a meeting with the President of the Estonian Olympic Committee, Urmas Sõõrumaa, which took place yesterday [23 March 2021]. I am happy to report that the meeting was meaningful, and Sõõrumaa had many questions about MMA and the Estonian MMA Federation. We discussed the work of IMMAF and the differences between amateur and professional MMA, and youth vs. adult sport. We were able to relay how the Estonian MMA Federation has built up a national MMA scene from scratch to a level that we can be proud of today, boasting educated referees and judges, a thorough medical system, guidelines and protocol for organising competitions, youth and adult pathways and participation in international level competition. We were also able to detail the good working relationship that the EMMAF holds with IMMAF, which unifies more than 120 national federations from all over the world, 49 of which have official NOC or NSA recognition.
While our immediate-term goal is to get our national team back to the gym as soon as possible to prepare for the 2021 European and World Championships, we also see it as important to eventually be recognised by the Estonian Olympic Committee. Recognition would give our sport equal opportunity to operate in Estonia, to have nationally recognised licensed coaches, to regulate our sport better and to benefit from resources from the Estonian Government and local municipal governments.
In concluding our meeting, Sõõrumaa expressed his opinion that the Estonian Olympic Committee should be the umbrella organisation for all sports and sporting activities in Estonia, at all levels. Our follow-up meeting with him is scheduled for this Friday, 26 March 26th.