Review of IMMAF’s first certification course for referees

The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) conducted its first international certification course for experienced referees, this past weekend on September  12 & 13. The inaugural course was hosted by the Czech Republic Mixed Martial Arts Association and President Martin Skvara, with excellent hospitality in the beautiful city of Prague. Developed and lead by world renowned UFC referee and IMMAF Technical Advisor Marc Goddard, the purpose of the course is to further IMMAF’s international standard for a unified understanding of rules by educating, assessing and expressing the responsibilities to officials from IMMAF member federations from around the globe. “The IMMAF progression scheme was first conceived before the first IMMAF World Championships of Amateur MMA which was in 2014,” Goddard explained. “We didn’t know the level of the international officials that we would be selecting from for the championships. So it was decided that we would get together in Berlin before the championships took place. I had officials from all over the world; New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, the Middle East and extensively from throughout Europe. Everybody was used to different rulesets and we had to bring everything together for obvious reasons. “The weekend that has just taken place in Prague was a step further, following on from this year’s IMMAF championships in Las Vegas. I must say about the level of officials we had this year in Las Vegas that I was really pleased and impressed. We had a tight knit group. A lot of them I had met previously, because they came to me in Berlin, but it was really encouraging for me. The officials, the judges and refs put on strong performances all round and they have my 100% recommendation.” The theory element of the course began in a classroom at the sports faculty of the Charles University in Prague. On  day 1, the referees seminar began with a welcome and each attendee introducing themselves. In addition to the Czech delegates, experienced officials in attendance had travelled from the UK, Germany, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Poland and Portugal. Marc Goddard expressed the importance of officials improving themselves and how the course would contribute to this. The importance of a unified understanding under IMMAF could not be overstated as a responsibility  that referees must adhere to. The history of the Unified Rules of Mxied Martial Arts was broken down with in depth clarification of all fouls, misconceptions and a group discussion of how each situation could be dealt with, many of which some of the international delegates had not been exposed to. While many in attendance had up to 5 years or more of refereeing (and judging) experience, there was always something that many had not considered. The  practical element on day 1 took place at the well equipped MMA Praha gym where the delegates each had a turn to enter the large cage and referee a 3 minute simulated sparring round between two experienced fighters. As Goddard took notes on each referee’s performance, delegates were marked on their checking of fighters before allowing them into the cage, their attention to the safety and awareness of the environment, their performance during the round itself, and most interestingly, how they dealt with the many unexpected situations and fouls that were simulated by the fighters. “This past weekend we saw a new group of officials who I haven’t seen before because the IMMAF format is expanding and growing at a crazy rate, and we have the European Championships coming up in November in Birmingham. We’re reaching out to the IMMAF member federations and asking them to send their recognised referees, because it’s all about pulling everything and everyone under a single, common and unified ruleset. “When the member federations come to us we’re showing them the Unified Rules of MMA and IMMAF Amateur rules, and then pushing them back to their respective countries and encouraging them not to sit on what they’ve learned but to spread the knowledge. This is for the future generations so that they won’t have to worry about differing rules.” Day 2 saw the course return to the classroom for a seminar discussion on the judging of MMA, what judges should look out for and what helps to score a round. As they were on day 1, the delegates were provided with a booklet containing all relevant information. Misconceptions and potential occurrences were broken down and the difference between watching and scoring was also covered. Also on day 2, the participants completed a multiple choice exam that will be marked and factored into their overall performance. The final element featured a muted fight that was played on screen which each delegate was required to score without the influence of commentary. Goddard concluded, “The course this weekend has played out pretty well. It’s still a work in progress but I think the weekend was a success.  I will have to determine the level of the attendees in my assessment, so it’s not for me to divulge here, but I’m encouraged because they’re being given the correct details and formula to go on and replicate. We’re firmly on the way.” The legacy of the course is in great part dependant on the experienced officials who attended and their national federation/association who must spread word of IMMAF’s unified standard and understanding in their own region. Furthermore, even those who pass the course and achieve their Class C licence must continue with their pursuit of knowledge and development, as a referee’s training is just as essential as that of a fighter. Improvement is continual for everyone, myself included.” IMMAF heads were also in attendance with IMMAF President Kerrith Brown and CEO Densign White overseeing the process. The IMMAF President reflected on his experience: “It’s been a great experience for me, to understand the world of the referees within MMA. It’s a great to see somebody like Marc Goddard, who’s at the top of his game, to witness the first ever IMMAF Referees Certification Course in the Czech Republic and to see the applicants who have come from all over the world to be part of the course. We’re showing that a structure needs to be put in place that is recognised internationally and that enables national federations to develop from the grass roots upwards, not just starting at a commercial level with no foundation.  It’s important for the sport itself.” “The course is a great and a positive move for IMMAF and for the federations that embrace it and can see the IMMAF’s strategy for the development of MMA.”

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