Why Mixed Martial Arts Belongs in The Olympics

The year is 684BCE. Two young, Greek Olympians stare each other down, ready to test their skills. The event they will compete in is “Pankration” – an ancient form of Mixed Martial Arts. 

The only difference between modern MMA and Pankration is the gloves. All of the rules are essentially the same. In both sports, everything is permitted except biting, eye-gouging (apart from the Spartans, those savages were fine with a thumb in the eyeball) and attacking the genitals. Competitors used both striking and grappling to either knock out or submit their opponent. 

In Ancient Greece, Pankration was a crowd favourite. The event had the highest prize money, second only to equestrian sports. The competitors were highly respected, with some going on to careers in Politics. 

Pankration was an integral part of the Olympics for centuries. However, in 393 AD, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, outlawed the games in an attempt to stamp out Paganism in the empire. 

Fast forward to 1896, the first ‘modern Olympics” are to be held in Athens after 1500 years of absence. The Archbishop of Lyon announced: “We accept all events to be reinstated. Except Pankration”. 

As Khabib would say, this is #1 bullshit. 

I’ve done some digging, and I can’t figure out why it was left out. I can only assume it was viewed as too brutal. 

There’s no denying MMA can be violent at times, but it is the purest form of competition on Earth. There are few constraints or equipment, just two athletes trying to better one another. 

It also seems ridiculous not to include MMA when so many Martial Arts are included in the games. Tae-Kwon-Doe, Judo, Wrestling, Boxing and next year Karate are all medalled events. Surely it makes sense to add the sport which transcends them all in there too? 

Who’s working on the issue?

I use the word “sport” when referring to MMA, but that’s not entirely accurate. In every facet MMA is a sport, except that it’s been refused observer membership by the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). Without this membership, it isn’t officially a sport, and can’t even be considered for the Olympics. 

Why has it been refused? The director of the GAISF wouldn’t comment. 

The campaign to include MMA is being led by the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF). IMMAF is the gold standard of Amateur Mixed Martial Arts. If MMA was to be included in the Olympics, it would look almost exactly as it does in IMMAF. 

In June of last year, the IMMAF applied to become a member of GAISF again, but were refused. No reason was given, they simply said: 

“We regret to inform you that following a thorough discussion, the GAISF Council has resolved not to grant the GAISF’S Observer Status to IMMAF. Please be assured that we will continue to evaluate your application and reassess it in the future should you wish to request it.” – IMMAF website. 

The IMMAF President Kerrith Brown replied: 

“Despite IMMAF meeting all known criteria, GAISF has continually refused to give any consistent or clear answers to IMMAF through our four years of willing engagement with them: They will not give any explanation for their decision. They will not tell us who was in the meeting. They will not tell us who had powers of decision over our application, nor will they tell us which combat sports have objected. They still have not explained why some martial arts have said MMA is incompatible with them. The CEO and I have been chastised for being aggressive for asking these questions.”

It’s difficult to know what to make of the situation. There’s obviously a reason GAISF is refusing to recognise MMA as a sport, but they won’t say why. It could be political, it could be ignorance. But it’s impossible to know when they won’t elaborate on why membership is being refused. 

It was a fan favourite in ancient Greece, and it would be extremely popular in the modern games too. MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world, but to fully mature it must officially be recognised as one. IMMAF fits every known criteria for sports recognition, but is being refused. 

It’s frustrating, but if there’s one thing Martial Arts teach you, it’s perseverance in the face of failure. I believe MMA will be an Olympic event once again and will finally be given the recognition and respect it enjoyed in ancient Greece. 

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