Ireland's MMA community demands more transparency from IMMAA

Amid resignations and new brain scan requirements, calls have been made to make the body more democratic

BY Peter Carroll 16:27 Thursday 5 January 2017, 16:27 5 Jan 2017

Picture by: Gregory Payan / AP/Press Association Images

The announcement that Irish MMA’s amateur governing body, IMMAA, will trial run scans for amateur competitors later this year (per Safe MMA Ireland’s recommendation) has been met with backlash from pockets of the Irish MMA community.

The outcry has been so significant that IMMAA president John Kavanagh posted on the association’s Facebook page, claiming that the association is working on “a detailed press release” for member clubs. The post also stated that it would address “everyone’s concerns” regarding the transparency of the association’s decision-making.

December was a month of transition for the newly founded IMMAA, as two prominent members of the association’s board - Andy Ryan and Paul Cowzer - resigned from their roles with the governing body.

Former IMMAA chairman Paul Cowzer posted his letter of resignation on Facebook to highlight his issues with the association, which began by him outlining his belief that the association is being controlled by Safe MMA Ireland.

"I think (IMMAA) does not represent the full community of Irish MMA and is more interested in being controlled by (Safe MMA Ireland) who are not in any way legally a governing body," Cowzer wrote. "Even when we achieve the best medical standards of any amateur sport, it’s still not enough."

Although there is currently no recognized governing body for the professional sport in Ireland, IMMAA has been working closely with Safe MMA Ireland to determine the safety standards for the sport ever since the tragic death of MMA fighter Joao Carvalho last April.

In 2016, IMMAA backed annual mandatory brain scans for all professional fighters that compete in the Republic of Ireland, and raised the standard of safety in the amateur sport to go above and beyond what is already required by the international governing body, IMMAF. 

Based on the results from the first testing group of professional fighters, among other factors, neurologist Dan Healy of Safe MMA Ireland recommended that amateur fighters competing in the Republic of Ireland also undergo a one-off brain scan to determine whether there are ant pre-existing issues before they compete.

Healy has secured a deal with Bon Secours Hospital in Dublin that will allow amateurs to be scanned for the low price of €150, but numerous coaches and fighters have complained, stating that the additional costs will rule out a number of competitors from being able to achieve clearance.

“The board of IMMAA also does not represent the working class people in my opinion, and doing everything to make it a sport that only those with money can take part in," Cowzer's letter stated. "If I was starting out now as a kid, I wouldn't be able to compete in it as I wouldn't have financially been able to, and this does not sit right with me."

Many of the disgruntled members of the Irish MMA community believe that, with such expenses having to be incurred by competitors, many will look to other pursuits like amateur boxing or any other amateur combat sport, which do not require the same scans to participate.

In another post, Cowzer claimed that to make the IMMAA board more democratic, each member club of the association should be represented at IMMAA meetings, with one club getting each vote before major changes are brought into effect.

Keith Cooper, head coach of Cooper’s MMA in Meath - a club that is not a member of the IMMAA - suggested that an AGM be called by the association to allow a new board to be selected by the Irish MMA community.

Cooper wrote: “Anyone I’ve spoken to has commended the work of (IMMAA), however there is an underlying concern that, in order for Amateur MMA in Ireland to take the next step, a more democratic and fair board needs to be elected and put in place, as well as far more regular and inclusive meetings take place, where everyone has a chance to help in the decision-making process."

The initial refrain from those opposing the introduction of one-off scans for amateur competitors was based on how MMA would be perceived. With no other amateur combat sport pushing for their competitors to be scanned, IMMAA running the trial could imply that the sport is more dangerous that other combat sports.

Since IMMAA’s recent announcement that it will trial brain scans for Irish amateurs at Cage Legacy’s event in February, the criticism has been coming in thick and fast for the association that was founded just seven months ago.

We can only wait and see as to whether IMMAA’s press release will ease some of the tensions that have been revealed through the announcement the new measures and Cowzer’s resignation.

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