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"Disturbing" WADA Politics Have Blocked MMA's Olympic Hopes

MMA’s international amateur governing body, IMMAF, believe that other sports that have already been recognized by Sport Accord blocked the federation from becoming a signatory to the WADA code, and without that MMA cannot become an Olympic Sport.
Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

MMA's amateur international governing body, IMMAF, have been pushing to gain the sport of MMA recognition, and last year, IMMAF president Kerrith Brown announced that one of the federation's goals was to get MMA into the Olympics.

However, after IMMAF's recent application to become signatories to the WADA code was rejected, MMA is a long way off from securing the minimum requirements to be eligible for The Games.


To cement a federation as an international governing body of a sport, the federation must gain recognition from Sport Accord, the IOC and become signatories to the WADA code. In 2016, Brown revealed that national MMA federations were having difficulty securing government recognition due to MMA's international governing body not being certified by the various associations.

"The problem (national federations) are having…is when they are asked which international body they belong to they say IMMAF," Brown told Newstalk.

"We are still fighting to get recognition from IOC, from Sport Accord and we are trying to become signatories to the WADA code. We tick all the boxes too, but there is still a reluctance to engage with the sport at every level."

In a statement that would later prove to be prophetic, IMMAF CEO Densign White talked about the various "walls" that have been put in front of IMMAF each time it would try to gain ground on the regulation of the sport.

"Everybody is afraid of MMA. It's not that we aren't trying to regulate the sport. We are trying. However, every time we try we get a wall put up in front of us. How are we meant to develop a sport, move it forward and make it safe, if we're not getting support or help from any of these organizations that are supposed to be there to help sports to flourish?

"This is a sport that is growing rapidly. You can't ban it because all that will do is push it underground. The way to deal with this is to regulate it. That's what we want. We want it to be illegal to practice MMA unless you are a member of one of our federations."


As IMMAF was already compliant with WADA's anti-drug code, there was a lot of optimism surrounding their application when it was revealed last summer. By becoming a signatory to the WADA code, recognition from Sport Accord could follow, a stamp of approval that would allow MMA to become an Olympic Sport.

"WADA recognition would not only serve as official, third party approval of our regulation of anti-doping, but would also mark a political milestone," Brown stated in the press release that announced IMMAF's effort to become a WADA signatory.

"To be in the running for recognition by the International Olympic Committee, MMA must first be accepted by sports body, Sport Accord. But in order to apply to Sport Accord, IMMAF must be a prior signatory to the WADA code. I cannot stress enough how the official acceptance of IMMAF would remove the many existing obstacles to protecting the health and safety of MMA's participants worldwide."

In a statement released by IMMAF after WADA rejected their application, Brown slammed the process that blocked their application, describing it as "disturbing".

Despite being in compliance with the WADA code, Brown believes that IMMAF were rejected due to the disapproval of other sports that have already been accepted by Sport Accord.

"We knew politics would be involved, but it's astonishing and wrong how WADA cannot make a decision for themselves, based on merit.


He continued: "The popularity of MMA means that other sports bodies see us as a threat to their own goals and fear our momentum towards becoming an Olympic Sport.

"They fear that we will steal the limelight and that their funding could diminish. This is linked to the situation with French Judo who have the ear of France's Sports Minister, resulting in the recent ban on MMA competition through an undemocratic process.

"From the offset, there was no support or clarification from WADA, even when we first reached out to discuss IMMAF's application we were repeatedly asked for information that had had already been provided. It's incompetent."

Brown also claimed that WADA have given them no clear reason as to why they have been rejected, despite IMMAF reaching out to them to gain an understanding of why their bid to become signatories was unsuccessful.

"IMMAF prides itself on transparency, but there has been no sight of this from WADA. It's a closed system with no rationale," said Brown. "Our follow up has been met with a vague response. From what has been said, it seems there is no proper policy or process from here."