IMMAF chief takes aim at GAISF and WADA amid recognition battle
By Susan Lingeswaran
Densign White, the chief executive of the International Mix Martial Arts Federation, has criticised the Global Association of International Sports Federations and the World Anti-Doping Agency amid its fight for recognition.
IMMAF is striving to become a signatory to the WADA Code to support its campaign to become a member of GAISF, which would itself open up access to government support and public funding and potentially eventual inclusion on the Olympic programme.
In an in-house interview, White derided the actions of the two organisations and claimed the reasoning behind rejecting its recognition was “full of contradictions.”
White said the IMMAF first applied to the GAISF for recognition of MMA as a sport in 2016, but since then the process had been “fraught with obstructions, about-turns, new demands, delays and lack of transparency.”
Such is its desire to become part of the international sports community, the IMMAF merged with the World Mixed Martial Arts Association in 2018 in an effort to start bringing the sport’s various would-be governing bodies under one roof.
In 2018, a GAISF administrator informed the IMMAF its application had been lost and it would have to reapply. Its second application was then formally rejected in March 2019 on grounds of “non-compatibility” – a term White said had never been mentioned before and which refers to similarities in mixed martial arts and other combat sports.
He said: "We expressed our surprise at the ‘compatibility’ issue, considering the many similarities in rules between various recognised sports. For example, basketball, netball and korfball; tennis and soft tennis; bandy and ice hockey among others.
"We have since received a response from GAISF with an attempt to define ‘compatibility’. Apparently, GAISF changed its statutes at some point to replace ‘rivalry’ with ‘non-compatibility’ as grounds for rejecting new member applications.
"We were not informed of this, though we had already addressed GAISF’s allegation of rivalry by merging with ’rival’ international governing body for MMA, WMMAA, in 2018.
"Shockingly, we discovered afterward that WMMAA had never even applied for membership to GAISF. Now, this new criterion clearly gives wider scope for abuse and discrimination without good grounds."
In response to White's comments, GAISF told Sportcal today: "IMMAF's application to become a GAISF member is under consideration and GAISF does not comment on the detail of ongoing applicatIons."
In December, another body claiming to represent the sport, the Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts, submitted its own formal application to attain observer status with GAISF. GAMMA was established in 2018 and is based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
White also took aim at WADA, which it has been seeking signatory code status from for the past four years, but was rejected as it requires the support of the GAISF.
He said: "IMMAF is extremely frustrated by the inconsistency of WADA's decision-making process on who is accepted as a code signatory. It has also come to my attention that WADA has accepted three different international federations for taekwondo, a decision which must be influenced by GAISF since according to WADA they cannot currently make such a decision independently.
"This surely undermines GAISF's arguments against MMA. While we worked hard to solve the so-called WMMA rivalry through a merger, we have also seen two federations accepted for rugby. Why is MMA being treated differently? The whole thing is so full of contradictions."
Sportcal understands WADA's awarding of code signatory to the three different taekwondo federations - World Taekwondo, International Taekwondo Federation (Austria) and International Taekwondo Federation (Spain) - predates the conflict rules, while there is only one code signatory for rugby union, with the other being for rugby league - a separate sport.
Asked to clarify his comments regarding taekwondo and rugby signatory codes, White told Sportcal the point of his comments was to highlight that matters of rivalry, and now combatibility, seem to be completely arbitrarily decided on by GAISF members.
He said: "As I'm aware rugby union previously objected to rugby league, but rugby league has since been accepted. Gymnastics was objecting to parkour as a rival although it is a completely different sport."
IMMAF, meanwhile, has taken legal action against WADA, which has asked for the case to be dismissed as a new version of the Code is set to come into effect next year. A hearing in the case took place in Lausanne in January.
White said: “WADA asked for the case to be thrown out since the Code is due to be changing in January 2021 to allow WADA to make its own independent decision about signatory application, without outside influence from the Olympic or sport movement.
“This of course will be nice when it happens sometime next year, but there is no guarantee that this will help us. We are still waiting for them to do what they should have already done four years ago."
In a statement, WADA told Sportcal today: “When an organisation approaches WADA with a request to become a signatory to the Code, we require information about the organisation’s governance, structure, planned or existing anti-doping activities and related budget.
“In a second stage, as per the policy established by WADA’s Executive Committee in 2010, we have an obligation then to consult with the respective international sport federation’s umbrella organisations to discuss the matter further. It is the umbrella organisation’s responsibility to advise WADA whether in accepting the organisation 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.
“In this case, the umbrella organisation (GAISF) did not regard the IMMAF’s application as satisfactory in terms of potential conflicts with existing Code signatories and therefore the IMMAF application could not be approved.”