(Photo courtesy – IMMAF)
With all the news this past weekend, one item may have been incidentally flew under the radar, but will be important for the future of the women’s divisions.
The International MMA Federation has formed a Women’s Committee, which held its first meeting on International Women’s Day. The committee of four women will help facilitate and oversee projects to expand women and girls in the sport internationally in the coming years not only in the amateur, but pro ranks as well.
The IMMAF itself has been a catalyst for the expansion of the women’s divisions internationally over the years, with stars like Minna Grusander and Sunna Davidsdottir making their way into the professional end of the sport.
We talked to the committee’s chair, Hayzia Bellem, about the goals of the committee and the steps they are taking moving forward.
Wombat Sports: How did this commission come about and how did you get involved?
Hayzia Bellem, Chairwomen: Gosha Malik, the IMMAF administrator, who presented this project to the IMMAF board, initiated this Commission. I met Gosha Malik when I started 1 year ago at the CFMMA (MMA French Commission). Gosha and I worked together on the few tasks and she asked me if I wanted to join this great adventure. I felt more than honored to have the opportunity to support this initiative and to be chosen by the IMMAF to chair this Commission. For a long time, the IMMAF had the strong conviction that it was a priority to have a Commission dedicated to the promotion of gender equality in sports.
Wombat: You just held your first meeting. What are some things you discussed?
Hayzia Bellem: We discussed our members’ skills, how we can give more visibility to our actions to become the window of women in MMA at every level. We are currently developing our strategy and priorities for 2020-2021. Among many goals, we focus on creating a network in every country to offer the same possibilities for women in the world.
W.S.: The IMMAF has helped so many female fighters have a platform. What obstacles are you seeing them facing?
Bellem: The main obstacles is to monitor the needs in every country. It goes through identifying female athletes, coaches, referees, etc. and get in touch with them to understand their needs. One of the big tasks we endeavor to achieve will be to identify the issues in every country to target the needs and find solutions. In some countries, the obstacle will be the lack of MMA Gyms and facilities, in others, the lack of transport, administrative support, language barriers or gender prejudice. At this stage, we need to create a strong communication network so that female athletes can be aware of the great
opportunities the IMMAF can offer.
W. S.: This committee isn’t just about the fighters, but also getting women into non-competitive roles. What are your ideas for getting more involved?
H.B.: Absolutely. One of our priorities is to increase the number of women in supporting roles and in decision-making positions. For example, we will encourage and support existing federations to creation Women’s Commissions. We also intend to create or develop existing networks to communicate on the various possibilities. One on the main problem is the lack of communication. So many of them are not even aware of the positions/roles they can have. The IMMAF has seen several of its participants make it to the pro level.
W. S.: While the atmosphere has improved in term of women training in gyms, what are some things the committee will discuss in continuing to make sure fighters are safe and comfortable?
H.B.: It is crucial for the IMMAF to be the flag bearer of Ethics in Sports. This means fighting against gender prejudice in MMA, fighting against harassment in fighting sports. Nonetheless, the issues are not the same from a country to another. We will use the guidelines, requirements and great work of the Olympic Committee to assist countries in placing Ethics in sports as a top priority. The IMMAF created a junior division this past year and we have seen more younger girls take part.
W.S.: Speaking of girls, what are some things you are hoping to do to expand interest in the sport from them?
H.B.: This is something we are particularly proud of. This process goes through the empowerment of women and girls through MMA. By giving more visibility to women in MMA, we intend to spotlight inspiring MMA figures for little girls. Current pro MMA organizations need to offer the public more women’s fights to lighten up the first spark of a vocation.
W.S.: How important is the IMMAF as a platform for these ladies and are you hoping to garner more relationships with promotions to get these ladies experience and the opportunity to turn pro?
H.B.: The IMMAF Women’s Commission aims at developing relationships with pro organizations. We want to raise awareness on the financial benefits of promoting women in MMA. Financial stakeholders have a part to play in this process.
One of the most recent example is the fight between Weili Zhang vs Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248. There is a clear demand and many women dream of becoming the next Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Amanda Nunes, etc. The IMMAF is a bridge between those two worlds.