While the ongoing UFC anti-trust lawsuit is the highest-profile and most significant case throughout the wider MMA landscape, a major development in another may ease the burden on mixed martial arts’ laborious bid for Olympic recognition.
In February of 2018, the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), which merged with fellow governing body World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMAA) in 2018, filed suit against the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in the Swiss court system on the basis of WADA infringing IMMAF-WMMAA’s personality rights.
The lawsuit’s filing came on the heels of IMMAF’s rejected bid for signatory status from WADA, a move long thought to be a major step for the international acceptance of MMA as a (potential) Olympic sport.
According to IMMAF CEO Densign White – himself a former Olympic judoka – the federation met all of the criteria WADA set out for potential signatories, yet was still denied signatory status.
In an August 30 letter to IMMAF-WMMAA members, White wrote, “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.”
The recent meeting between IMMAF and WADA, White told The Body Lock, was to “talk about how they are managing applications to become a signatory,” the crux of IMMAF’s legal case and main complaint against WADA.
“We know that WADA are planning to change their way of working with applications,” said White. “There’s going to be a decision made about how they manage applications in November. The main change that they are proposing for November is that they will no longer consider the opinion or take on board the view of a third party in deciding whether an international federation can be a signatory.”
That change is at odds with the current system, which led to IMMAF’s legal challenge, says White.
“What they are saying at the moment is that they cannot make an international federation a signatory until it has the approval of the GAISF, the Global Association of International Sports Federations, and that’s basically the crux of our case. Our case is that WADA is an independent body that should be able to make an independent decision not based on politics or the opinion of a third-party organization.”
White noted in his letter, “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.”
To White, WADA’s decision to amend its application process was inevitable. Speaking to The Body Lock ahead of the meeting, White explained, “I think that there are other federations in a similar situation to us. I think that WADA knows that their defense is not sustainable.
“I would imagine that it should embarrass them, really, because here you have a federation that is trying to do all of the right things with testing at all of our events. We’re trying to make sure that all of our athletes are safe and competing on a level playing field; we’re doing all of the things we’re supposed to be doing in that regard and the organization that is set up to support international federations is actually shutting the door on us.”
According to White, WADA’s rejection of signatory status has been a significant obstacle in IMMAF’s bid for Olympic recognition for MMA, not to mention its own drug-testing program.
“Of course, it’s based on politics because GAISF knows that we have met all of the qualification conditions to become a full member and to be put forward to their congress for a vote on full membership. But one of the prerequisites to that, and what we don’t have, is that we’re not a signatory of the WADA code. So, they’re deliberately stalling our progress by making sure we don’t become a signatory to WADA and then they can use that excuse,” White alleged.
“[WADA] should help us have insight into what other non-out-of-competition testing is being done by other international federations around the world. All of that information you can access through the WADA [Anti-Doping Administration & Management System] ADAMS system, but they don’t allow us to access the ADAMS system. We’re supposed to manage all of our results including adverse, analytical rule violations, we’re supposed to manage on that ADAMS system, but we’re not allowed to use that system, we’re being blocked from it,” said White.
In the letter to IMMAF members, White appeared optimistic that recent developments have cleared the way, somewhat, for GAISF and Olympic recognition.
“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.
“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.”
In a statement to The Body Lock, the World Anti-Doping Agency noted, “As this is a pending case, we are not in a position to comment. However, we can confirm that as part of the ongoing review of the World Anti-Doping Code, WADA has put in place a Working Group to review the current policy for the acceptance of new Code Signatories.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.