IMMAF to find out next week if contentious bid for GAISF observer status has succeeded
By Callum Murray
The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation expects to hear on 29 January or soon afterwards whether its contentious application to be awarded observer status by the Global Association of International Sports Federations, the umbrella body for IFs, has succeeded.
The move is the latest step in a lengthy battle by IMMAF, which is partly bankrolled by UFC, the international MMA promoter owned by Endeavor, for recognition for the sport.
Speaking exclusively to Sportcal, Densign White, IMMAF’s chief executive, said that its present status “holds back the sport from being recognised. Lack of recognition at GAISF level is also holding back other [IMMAF] members at a national level from getting recognition. While we are not recognised, other entities are coming out of the woodwork purporting to be representing MMA globally. There were two or three just in the last week. We don’t want them [GAISF] saying, ‘What about these other people?’”
IMMAF has been caught in what it perceives to be a log jam over GAISF membership, with the umbrella body demanding that its members should be signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code, but the World Anti-Doping Agency having turned down its application to be a code signatory for what IMMAF believes to be spurious reasons.
Consequently, IMMAF has launched a Swiss court case against WADA, accusing it of anti-competitive behaviour. It has claimed that it is being thwarted in its ambitions by other combat sports which it believes are jealous of its success and which, in some cases, want to mount a ‘land grab’ to claim control of the rising sport for themselves.
White said: “WADA and GAISF were working hand in hand in building a case against WADA making IMMAF a signatory. As soon as we get observer status, we will get to be a WADA signatory.
“Also WADA is saying that MMA is very violent and dangerous and doesn’t meet Olympic values. Yet, they never officially told us about any other complaint [from an international federation] except WMMAA [World Mixed Martial Arts Association], which they sent us to resolve.”
WMMAA was a rival international MMA federation with which IMMAF merged last year at the behest of GAISF, which demands that sports are represented by a single international federation to become members and, ultimately, to be accepted onto the Olympic programme (a professed ambition of IMMAF).
White continued: “[GAISF membership] is critical to the very existence of our sport. MMA is already outlawed in France (and that’s part of WADA’s defence) and in Norway as well. That puts us at risk. Other sports are dangerous, people have died, but those sports are never at risk of being banned because they’re established and recognised. But we’re outside that community.
“We told everyone, ‘Now is the time to make it known if you object to MMA'. If they [other federations] consider us a rival, they have to say so. No one has, except behind closed doors.”
IMMAF, which had previously applied unsuccessfully for full membership of GAISF, is now seeking to take advantage of the body’s newly-introduced observer status. White said that it opted for the new category, instead of submitting a new application for full membership, “because we felt that would give us the best opportunity to prepare ourselves if there’s anything missing to become a full member.”
As for the court case against WADA, White said: “There will be a hearing and a judge will decide. Our case is that it’s anti-competitive, against cartel laws and an infringement of personality rights. WADA is also infringing its own statutes by allowing a third party [GAISF] to make the decision for them.”
White supported his ‘land grab’ accusation by pointing out that at national level MMA often comes under the umbrella of other federations, such as wrestling, kickboxing or muay thai. Although the associations and collaborations often work well at local level, White said, they create a precedent, albeit, “It’s probably only at the top end that they’re trying to protect their commercial interests.”
IMMAF is upset that it will not be allowed to make any representation to GAISF’s membership commission when it meets to decide on the case next week. He said: “It was a blank refusal. A ‘We’ll let you know’.”
Asked what IMMAF will do if its application is turned down again, White said: “We have to keep on pushing, lobbying and trying to persuade. We don’t want to start a legal case [against GAISF], but it’s a last resort, a possibility. But we’d rather spend our money on development and growing the sport.”
In May last year, WADA insisted that its hands were tied over the issue of becoming a code signatory, and that it could not act independently of GAISF, saying that upon receiving an approach from a federation, “we have an obligation… to consult with the respective international sport federations’ umbrella organisations to discuss the matter further.
“It is the umbrella organisations’ responsibility to advise WADA whether in accepting the organization as a new Code Signatory it would lead to a potential conflict with one of the umbrella organisation’s existing Code signatories. If we receive a response from the umbrella organisation stating that a potential conflict exists, then we are simply not in a position to approve the organisation’s application.”