Is the conflict of interests holding Indian MMA back?

‘MMA in India is still at a nascent stage’

You would’ve probably heard this statement a million times by now. But then again, it’s hard to tell otherwise at the current point of time.

MMA
Is the conflict of interests holding Indian MMA back?

A perfect environment is required for any sport to grow. MMA is no different. It requires the right mixture of fans, coaches, promotions, governing bodies, gyms, media, and sponsors among others. These factors hold the responsibility of supporting the fighters.

At the moment, the sport is indeed growing by leaps and bounds in India, but we are still miles away from being the ‘perfect environment’ that a fighter requires.

The blurred line between promotions and governing bodies

One of the major issues that mar our march towards such an atmosphere is the conflict of interest that arises as different levels. The blurred line between promotions and governing bodies is perhaps the biggest one from the lot.

People who are holding top positions in governing bodies are mostly involved with promotions. This raises many questions.

All India Mixed Martial Arts Federation (AIMMAF) president and former fighter Aditya PS is someone who was always vocal about the issue. He, however, was under the scanner recently due to his association with the Kumite 1 League and KHK MMA.

Aditya PS with Mike Tyson (Pictured ahead of the inaugural K1 League Event)

We decided to reach out to him regarding the issue and he mentioned that he is still sticking to his opinion that promotions and governing bodies should not have same people at the helm as it raises a conflict of interest.

He also insisted that he is not on the payroll of either KHK MMA or K1 League and went on to add that all the help that he gave to the promotion was as the president of AIMMAF.

He did, however, admit that he was involved with KHK holdings which according to him has nothing to do with KHK MMA. Not being involved with KHK MMA officially is one thing, but doesn’t a conflict of interest – at least in principle – arise with involvement with KHK holdings?

“My involvements with the promotions were only as the representative of the federation. MMA is still at a nascent stage in India. And the number of experienced people in the nation is quite less when it comes to the sport.

So we have tried helping the promotions to conduct their events in a more structured way and at the same time, we have made sure that the fighters are secure,” Aditya said.

An article on the official website of IMMAF has also mentioned Aditya as the promoter of K1 League. During the interview with us, Aditya said that this was a mistake from the IMMAF team and that he had pointed it out to them when he read the article.

The involvement of Hon. General Secretary of AIMMAF Mayur Bansode with Zen Warriors Fighting Championship is another potential conflict about which the fans can raise questions about since Mayur is also the owner of Zen Fitness Studio and Zen Kickboxing and MMA academy. The Facebook page of Zen Kickboxing and MMA Academy in fact has the AIMMAF nationals as it’s cover photo.

When asked about how Abdul Muneer, who is an active fighter, can hold an office position in AIMMAF, Aditya had the following to say.

“Abdul Muneer is in the Federation for the technical reasons and as a represenative of the fighters. He was taking a break from MMA when he started working with AIMMAF. And now that he is returning to fight, we will make sure that there is no conflict of interest that arises out of this. Because he is a veteran fighter and has done a lot for not only the fighter community but also for the fighters through expanding MMA through the Federation. It’s like Fedor Emelianenko situation with WMMAA. He was the honorary president of WMMAA. So when he came out of retirement to fight actively, he moved out from the position. The most important thing to understand is this: in terms of the body supervisors be it amateur or professional if any situation arises where there can be a conflict of interest, we make sure that the particular person is separated from the duties in the scenario. So if a fighter who is holding a position now decides to go full-active again rather than returning for a one-off fight, then he will have to step out from the position,”

The implementation of Drug Testing and future steps

Drug Testing is another issue that required addressing from Aditya. He has always advocated for the same and when quizzed, he revealed the practical difficulties and the future plans that AIMMAF had.

“There was no drug testing for K1 League, the reason being that, A, the drug testing is a very very costly affair. We haven’t done that. Even from the world organisation also, it will take some time as we are still getting recognised under sport accord. Once we get recognized, WADA would come and do it. Otherwise, we will have to approach it in a separate manner then it would cost a lot of money and then again, Drug testing is not a one-off affair. It’s a complete program for an entire year. Because athletes can just get away with that. You need to do random testing. So the program has to be done for the entire year rather than for a particular event. So if the implementation is there, it should be there for a year around program,” he notes.

An understanding between MMA India, which is recognised by the IMMAF – WMMAA body, and AIMMAF will be crucial for implementing this. And we have learned that talks are currently going on for such an agreement even though an initial MOU was apparently signed but now it seems there is some discomfort with some newly inducted members into MMA India. Let’s see whether their partnership/agreement goes through as the more MMA associations/federations join hands in India, it will be better for the sport as presently there are 4-5 associations/federations in the country.

AIMMAA and Super Fight League

Another person we approached for the article was Avi Mittal who recently succeeded Raj Kundra as the Honorary Chairman of All India Mixed Martial Arts (AIMMAA). Prior to this move, Avi served as the Director of Super Fight League. Whether or not he is still involved with the SFL remains a confusing question. A report that came out on the Mumbai Mirror tagged him as the ‘former’ director of SFL.

As we wanted to hear his take on the issue and clear the confusion, we reached out to him. Avi, however, wanted the MMA India Show to answer some transparency questions first, which we did but as for his response, we are yet to get the same. He did reply stating that there will be a delay in answering due to his travel schedule. We did wait for his return but since there has been no reply yet we will be updating the article once/if we get the answers from him.

The importance of darkening the line

While the explanations given might be digestible at the moment, the blurred lines between factors that contribute to the fighter welfare need to be darkened at the earliest. This is mandatory if we are to create an environment where fighters will not be exploited or put at risk.

And one of the biggest things that we need to do is bring transparency into the functioning of MMA in the country. As we have mentioned many times in the past, the MMA India Show and mmaindia.com will be at the forefront of this to make sure that we point out any apparent issues.

written by Renjith Ravindran and the MMA India team

Renjith Ravindran

An engineer by luck and a sports writer by passion, Renjith has been covering various sports for almost half a decade. He has received praise from the likes of WWE superstars Paul Heyman and Natalya for his work and has also interviewed some notable names from the business. He is constantly looking out for creative challenges that excite him and finds beauty in the art of Combat Sports.

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