In an interview with MyNextMatch CEO Oner Avara, IMMAF of Australia president Joe Minehan (pictured, centre) explains the importance of amateur mixed martial arts, the challenge of creating a unified national federation, the value of having Marc Goddard visit Australia and the possibility of an Olympic future for MMA.
Oner Avara: What are IMMAFA's plans and strategies to grow MMA in Australia? What are your hopes and goals for 2016?
Joe Minehan: Our plans and strategies are to keep reaching out to all MMA clubs and all other martial arts clubs that have an interest in MMA to educate them on what IMMAF and IMMAFA are about – the fact that we are non-profit and here to benefit the sport and the competitors without any hidden agendas.
With the creation of IMMAF and now IMMAFA it gives a structure that people can come in and become part of one organisation. That provides a pathway for people to represent their state at national events or represent their nation at international events. It gives an opportunity for improved consistency in refereeing and officialdom as well as matchmaking and a lot of other benefits.
What is the current state of MMA in Australia?
There are a lot of different groups all doing their own thing and with the best intentions. Before the creation of IMMAF as an overriding body there were a lot of people who organised the sport so that there was a competition for people and enabled the sport to grow organically within Australia.
Some organisations allow professionals to compete on an international scale, but for amateurs it is still limited to very small competitions and due to the structure that has grown in Australia, that means athletes get introduced to professional sport at a very early stage in their development.
What we will be able to do is give them that pathway so that they go through an amateur career, build experience, really get to know how to defend themselves and enhance their skills in striking, grappling and submissions to a stage where they can compete at a higher level rather than being thrown in the deep end.
We will be nurturing them and giving them an opportunity to grow. It is not a nursery but it is an environment where they can learn their skills better before being introduced into the harder world. At this stage in Australia – which may be at a similar stage to a lot of countries – athletes are introduced to professional sport too early and I'm sure we are sometimes losing good players because they haven't been nurtured correctly.
What steps have you taken as an organisation that you would recommend to other federations?
I'm not sure we've done anything that other guys aren't doing but obviously you need the recognition from the regulatory bodies within your own jurisdiction.
I think the only thing to watch out for is, with the creation of IMMAF we have come across some existing animosity and reluctance by some parties to work with other parties so what we're doing is putting a big emphasis on being inclusive.
It's the idea that regardless of what has gone on in the past, competitors, coaches and referees are welcome within our organisation but moving forward what they need to do is abide by our code of conduct and the rules associated with IMMAFA but we need people to come in with an open mind to join the organisation.
Our biggest challenge is to get over the existing hesitancy of the existing MMA organisations that may feel threatened by the existence of IMMAF and IMMAFA but what we are here to do is help them along the path and create the pathways for all involved in the sport, right from the competitors where we want to provide a safe environment.
If people don't want to be competitors we will be able to provide training and pathways for coaches, for referees, for scorers, officials to be involved at some level in the sport if that's what they choose to do. That will allow us to continue to grow the sport and essentially provide grassroots support for the sport as a whole within Australia.
How does having courses like the recent ones run by Marc Goddard help reach those goals?
Because Marc Goddard is very well respected within MMA globally, he lends his credibility to our organisation. But then we also know that the people that attend these courses are getting the highest level of training which will help us grow the consistency of our referees and coaches.
In any case, no matter what the sport or discipline you're attached to, you want to get the best to coach and teach and in the area of refereeing and officials, that's where Marc is.
What is it like being involved with an organisation like IMMAF?
I'm very excited by being involved with IMMAF because it is well run – I was lucky enough to go to Las Vegas last year and see the World Championships in action – it was an extremely well run event, and run with a sense of mutual support and sportsmanship, which was very impressive. I met many of the directors who are very passionate about what they are doing and that is one of the reasons why IMMAF will be successful.
The other thing about being involved with IMMAF is we have had a high level of support from the staff to help us, including Stewart Brain who is the board director for Oceania. It's a very professional organisation with the right goals and missions.
Do you believe that MMA can push for inclusion as an Olympic sport in future?
I believe that the Japan association JMMAF is already pushing for Olympic inclusion for MMA.
I'm not sure we will be able to get into the 2020 Olympics but with the popularity of the sport, it will become recognised even if it takes some lobbying and some demonstration to help with getting over the preconceptions that the sport is just violent.
The Olympic boards will need to see that, firstly, it is not simply violence; that there is a lot of technique, a lot of skill involved in it and it is actually just taking the existing martial arts to another level.
The main thing that the Olympic committees will be interested in is they need to be confident that we are looking after the safety of our players.
But the short answer is yes, we will get there even if it may take some time.