IMMAF CEO Update On MMA’s Bid for Sport Recognition

CEO Densign White wrote to IMMAF | WMMAA members yesterday (30 August 2019) with an update on the MMA governing body’s bid for sport recognition by GAISF and the status of its legal case against WADA. See his letter published below:


Dear Members,

I wanted to write to make you aware of our progress with our WADA application to become a signatory of the WADA code and the application to the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).

We applied to GAISF and WADA as far back as 2016 and we learnt very quickly that it was the politics within these organisations that was going to be the determining factor rather than the merits of the application.

Our WADA application was the first to be rejected in early 2017 because WADA did not receive the backing from GAISF that they say they are obliged to have.

Later that year we were invited to a GAISF membership meeting in Lausanne, where it was explained to us that whilst there was ‘rivalry’ between our federation and WMMAA there would be no possibility for us to be considered for membership.

It is true that the GAISF statutes do not permit membership if there is rivalry with an existing member. GAISF however argued that they could not decide which of the two international MMA federations was the legitimate one (between IMMAF and WMMAA), and therefore they were putting the ball back into our court. It is of particular interest to note that none of the existing combat sports that are members of GAISF have made a rivalry claim against our application. However, this does not mean that these concerns are not being expressed behind closed doors and we know that they are.

Thanks to you the members we were able by July of 2018 to have a fully executed agreement with WMMAA to merge as one global MMA community.

In the meantime, we had also launched a lawsuit in the Swiss civil courts against WADA. This is because we believe WADA to have made a political decision rather than one based on the merit of our application, as well as one not made independently of GAISF. Indeed, WADA had previously written to us to confirm that our anti-doping programme was compliant with the WADA code. Their decision has also put them on the wrong side of other Swiss laws, too many to mention here but included in our submission to the court.

During this time, GAISF had also undergone a process of restructure and change. They had a new President and had introduced an ‘Observation Status’ application for those sports wishing to be full members but which did not yet meet all the prerequisites.

We decided that since our full membership application had made no progress, and with Observation Status providing a lower bar for us to reach, we would be afforded a greater chance of success. However, this also proved not to be the case as our application for Observer Status was refused without reason in February 2019.

We did manage after several requests to elicit an explanation for why the application was refused, as outlined below:

  1. Rivalry, but it was not stated with whom. The only rivalry GAISF has ever made us aware of was that between IMMAF and WMMAA which we have resolved.
  2. Concerns about athlete welfare. We believe that we can rightfully boast the gold standard for athlete welfare and one which is certainly higher than in any other combat sport. All our medical statistics and reports dating back to 2014 have been provided and there is not anything contained in that data to cause concern.
  3. Our commercial relationships. They were not specific either on this point and nor do we believe that any of our sponsors and partners should raise any concern because they are legal and respected business entities.

After receiving this reply from GAISF we met with them during the SportAccord Congress on the Gold Coast in Australia in May. We tried to drill down into the real reasons for the blockages to our application since the ones provided are in our view disingenuous. The GAISF team was not able to enlighten us any further.

Subsequently, the court case against WADA picked up pace and a date was given by the Swiss court of September 4th 2019.

WADA then reached out to us to request a meeting, which took place of August 5th in Lausanne. WADA has given assurances to us that they are working hard to address issues we have raised, but to achieve this they need to change their current policies which prevent them from making decisions independently of their sports stakeholders, including GAISF and IOC.

They asked for more time and requested the postponement of the court case by 4 months. The IMMAF Board of Directors, acting in good faith, has agreed to the postponement. The courts have been notified and have confirmed a new date for January, when the case will resume should WADA fail to deliver.

Also, while in Lausanne, we met with GAISF. The conversations were much more constructive than previously, and we were informed that our application may be reconsidered in October. The recent positive developments in France and Norway had clearly impacted their decision making, and it is IMMAF members who have been at the forefront of these changes at a local level.

It is worth mentioning also that should our Observation Status application be successful in October, WADA will automatically give IMMAF signatory status. Should that happen we will be in a position to apply for full GAISF membership in 2020.

Only IMMAF meets the high bar to be considered for GAISF membership. We have under our belts now the required five years of General Assemblies, five years of Audited accounts and a WADA Code compliant anti-doping programme. We have a detailed five-year plan for sport development which includes youth development, coach education, referee and judging training, as well as our Continental and World Championships which provide a competitive development platform for a range of age groups. And to top it all, we have achieved the required forty national federations recognised either by their National Olympic Committee or Government ministry.

IMMAF will be hosting its second technical conference in Antalya, Turkey, from 18th to 20th October 2019. Places are limited so please do apply early to avoid disappointment. IMMAF will cover the cost of one night of accommodation for the first fifty members to apply.

I hope that this brief update has been useful and, as always, I am available to you all at any time should you have questions about any IMMAF matters that concern you.

I will close by wishing you all every success at the forthcoming World Championships in Bahrain, and I hope you can all attend the IMMAF Ordinary General Assembly where you will elect the new board to take this incredible organisation forward to 2027.

Densign White.

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