WADA faces IMMAF lawsuit over rejection of code signatory application
By Callum Murray
The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation said today that it launched legal action against the World Anti-Doping Agency in a court in Lausanne last month over WADA’s rejection of its application to become a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code.
IMMAF is partly funded by Endeavor (formerly WME-IMG), owner of UFC, the professional mixed martial arts series, and Densign White, IMMAF’s chief executive, told Sportcal today that Endeavor was sponsoring the lawsuit, including paying the legal costs associated with hiring Swiss lawyers to conduct the legal challenge.
IMMAF applied to WADA to become a signatory to the code in June 2016, but despite having been recognised as code-compliant, was turned down, on what White today described as “political grounds.”
IMMAF’s application for membership of the Global Alliance of International Sports Federations (formerly SportAccord), was also rejected, “a totally unsatisfactory situation,” which, White said, left it with “no alternative but to take things to another level.”
White said: “We know other combat sports don’t want IMMAF to become a member because they feel threatened by the sport. Maybe they’re frightened they might lose their position in the queue to become IOC-recognised, and then to become an Olympic sport. Those that already are [Olympic sports] might feel their sport is at risk of being kicked out.”
White also argued that WADA had compromised its independence by allowing itself to be influenced over its decision on IMMAF’s application to become a code signatory by GAISF. He said: “My view is that WADA should be independent, and should not need to ask a third party about the merits of an application.”
Sportcal has asked WADA for a response to the lawsuit.
IMMAF said that it is disputing the rejection of its application to become a WADA signatory “on the grounds of infringement to its personality rights according to Swiss law. Although IMMAF meets all WADA criteria, the agency which was founded to independently protect and support participant safety in sport, rejected IMMAF’s application.
“The sole reason given was rebuttal by other recognised International Sports Federations, mainly combat sports federations.”
Asked to explain the basis of its legal challenge, White said: “In Swiss law, organisations have the right to play their trade, to do business without hindrance.”
In a statement, IMMAF said: “WADA’s rejection has wide reaching impact on the development of the sport of MMA, including the safety of its competitors and their right to fair competition. It also damages IMMAF’s reputation and MMA’s scope for development since WADA signatory status is a requirement of all sports federations wishing to become members of Global Alliance of International Sports Federations (formerly SportAccord).
“GAISF is the umbrella organisation for international sports federations, which enables access to governmental support and public funding, and is the feeder organisation to the Olympic Games.”
IMMAF is on record as saying that it would like to work towards Olympic status for mixed martial arts. In November last year, IMMAF began merger negotiations with the rival World Mixed Martial Arts Association, as the sport seeks to bring its governance under one roof, a prerequisite for recognition by GAISF, and ultimately for acceptance onto the programme of the Olympic Games.
White said that the two bodies have in the last few days signed an affiliation agreement. The lack of a single, unified governing body had also been put forward as a reason to turn down IMMAF’s application to GAISF, but White said: “We hope to hand the agreement to Patrick Baumann [GAISF’s president]. Let’s see what they now have to say.”
In the statement, White said: “I’m disappointed that it has come to this, but I feel IMMAF has been left with no alternative. Attaining signatory status to the WADA code is important to IMMAF, as it validates our work and empowers us to regulate. Without WADA recognition, IMMAF’s sanctions are easily bypassed with a resulting detrimental impact on our athletes, their safety and the sport of MMA. By refusing our application WADA strips IMMAF of its ability to ensure a clean sport, which runs contrary to its purpose.”
Gaining recognition as a signatory to the code would have “no bearing whatsoever” on the status of UFC, White said, which has a separate anti-doping agreement administered by the US Anti-Doping Agency.