By Jake Smith
For so many nations, the Covid pandemic has seriously hindered the development of amateur athletes and especially their ability to compete. Austria is no different: following two major lockdowns and with restrictions still in place, amateur athletes still can’t train or compete.
Austrian Mixed Martial Arts Federation President Fritz Trieber knows they face an uphill battle to regain momentum. Speaking to IMMAF.org he explained how restrictions have impacted progress over the last year.
“We had two major lockdowns in Austria. From mid of March 2020 till mid may 2020 all gyms were closed. Some gym owners had problems with their landlords, who insisted on getting the rent every month.
“In summer, we returned back to a normal MMA life in the gyms. We thought about making a national tournament but it was too risky. In October, there were the next restrictions, no more sparring and BJJ, from November till now all gyms are closed again.
“Fortunately, the gyms now get support from the state, but a lot of people quit and it will not be easy to get all the people back when the gyms reopen – maybe in May 2021.
Only professional fighters are allowed to train in the gyms, with testing every day. Amateurs are not allowed to join.”
Reflecting on Austria’s time as an IMMAF member federation to date, Trieber appreciates the opportunity to develop a multi-national approach to coaching preparation and the impact it has had on the athletes.
“We are very thankful to get the support of this great organization (IMMAF). We joined the first World Championships in Vegas with a team and since then we have been at European and World Championships nearly every year.
“The international exchange of coaches and trainers at such events is very fruitful for sport development. Joint training camps can also be organized or invitations to amateur tournaments come from other countries, which has a very positive effect on our athletes and motivates them even more.”
A key principle for IMMAF is regular cooperation amongst members as a way to better the sport as a whole. This is something the AUTMMAF have instilled in their federation since the start, working closely with Germany and more recently, Kosovo. Trieber expanded on some of the recent work Austria has conducted with neighbouring federations. He said:
“The president of MMA Kosovo, Besart Berisha once fought for the Austrian team because he has a double citizenship and there was no MMA team in Kosovo at that point.
“We helped him establish the foundation of a federation in Kosovo in 2019. Together with the president of the Albaninan MMA Federation – Arjan Rezei I held the first MMA Seminar for young interested athletes in Kosovo. It was an honour and also great fun, working together.
“MMA Kosovo is growing rapidly and we hope in the future to work together again.”
As much as Trieber is looking forward to being able to work alongside his fellow federations, due to the nature of his job, he knows not to hold out too much hope of it happening this year. “The next 12 months will still be harsh because as a molecular biologist I know this virus is not so easy to beat. Some scientists from different universities in our country are warning of another wave in October 2021. But we hope we can be in our gyms, who are for many of us a second home, from May till October – without restrictions.”
Once back to full capacity, Tribier is keen to have progression under IMMAF grading system play a key role in furthering the development of Austria’s amateur mixed martial artists.
“First we have to go back to normal, organize national championships and set up a team for the next IMMAF event.Apart from that we have to motivate far more people to sign up on the IMMAF app and take exams to progress in the grading system established by IMMAF. We try to support gyms in any way, so that when the Corona crisis ends the sport can flourish again.”
Although times have been tough for everyone over the last twelve months, Trieber believes it is paramount people keep faith and try to take the positives out of what has been a difficult year, he said:
“We must never lose heart but always have to look ahead. It’s much easier together. And we must not forget how important health is, for athletes but also for our families. Perhaps we will all take something positive with us from this pandemic and change something for the better in terms of climate change, consumer frenzy or other problems of our time. It’s wonderful to be part of this worldwide MMA family. We will see each other again personally, I am convinced of that, but patience is also a virtue that every martial artist is familiar with.”