Muay Thai – Kickboxing – Children’s Classes – GRIT

The State of Play – Muay Thai in Australia viewed from Space.

The State of play in Australia – Muaythai – Written 2021 and updated Feb 2024. A view from space. 

A current focus on Muaythai in Australia and the architecture that shapes it. 

Muaythai is a sport that has been growing consistently in Australia for over 25 years and is now stronger, larger, and more mainstream than ever before. This is evident by the growth in the number of clubs that do Muaythai, promotional events held and the number of athletes competing to sustain them. The greatest area of growth is in participants in the sport for a fitness activity. This is also the foundation of club growth and enhances the interest in competitions from either a spectator or athlete perspective. The current landscape is increasingly complex and varied across Australia. Regardless of your reasons for, or level of Muaythai involvement, a focused perspective on the depth of complexity may assist your understanding or contribute to your opinion of the sport.

I write this after stepping down from of my role as Muaythai Australia President and after 10 years on the board of the MTA. During the effects of another wave of COVID lockdowns, 12 months after the initial national lockdowns caused chaos across the industry for all involved. I am a long-term club owner, participant, and coach, and have been involved in the sport at all levels from local development through to world championships.

Executive Summary

Muaythai is a promoter driven sport in Australia. Specifically, local promoters for local athletes. A sport is nothing without competition. Although my estimate for competition participant v’s Gym participant is approximately 10%-25% with the vast majority of people are training for fitness, not competition. That bulk of people are the base of all spectators, then friends/ family then the public. Any other business model is extremely challenging. Promoters at all levels need to be supported by sporting bodies at all levels to ensure the sport can develop. Promoters have an interest in developing the sport and clubs need competition to develop their athletes. No one can own, control, or govern the sport in Australia effectively without attracting the market forces required to provide a basis of credibility. The strength and market position does not come from policing, regulating or controlling the sport. All level of stakeholders is responsible for athlete safety and can enhance or detract from the credibility of the sport. Such credibility damage can result from short-term goals of promoters and trainers.

Australia is a federation of states. Each state makes their own legislation and considers many aspects, including Trade Practices Act [1974] and other commercial interests. Muaythai is a combat sport and is regulated by state legislation except in states where there is no combat sports legislation. This legal position gives equal treatment to any ‘approved body’ in that state. States with no combat sports legislation are also affected by other legislation that allows commercial interests to have equal status. This means that no one owns Muaythai and never will. International bodies have no legal power in Australia. They have less influence in a state with combat sports legislation than a state approved body. In non-legislated states, market forces determine the conduct of the sport, and anyone can promote any sport or version of it, if people choose to participate.

Any version of Muay Thai not under the oversight of an approved body is a greater risk to legal action than one without. Sanctioning bodies do not protect promoters unless there is a legal agreement in place. Indemnity forms are very over relied on, not tested and legally weak positions to prevent legal action against a promoter or trainer. Insurance is available but has many limitations, especially with non-approved bodies, non (formally) qualified trainers and insurance companies facing increasing amounts of combat sport related claims. Professional fighters are often NOT professional regarding workers compensation and tax requirements, and this is a major area of exposure for the sport.

Multiple sanctioning bodies and a non-unified sport is extremely damaging to the sport, outside of the local business arena and limits growth, mass media and credibility. Using local or Australian based, non-approved bodies for promotions is extremely risky from a legal action perspective as there is very little oversight. A registered business name or ‘group’ is not even close to the credibility and protection provided by a state approved body or national approved peak body.  Although legally, a state approved body is in a stronger organisational position than the national body for local events in states with legislation.

Muaythai would be a more respected and mainstream sport if more promoters where unified and all bodies operating within the sport worked together (on some level to appear as if unified) for the benefit of the sport in general. It is ridiculous to have so many rules set, scoring systems, sanctioning bodies and even on one fight card, have version of the same rules and varying padding and round times for each fight. Different fight rounds for women are archaic.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to mainstream credibility is the lack of ability to point to a single national champion, amateur, professional in any rule version of the sport. There are far too many titles for too many non-state, national champion, no unified criteria and no credible rankings or impartial matching for titles for the most deserving. Titles are far more marketing and ticket selling tools than any credible pathway to credible sporting champions.

The MTA, as the only Muaythai governing body recognised by the Australian Sports Commission, however it has no legal power and asserts no ownership of Muaythai. IFMA, the international body has a different agenda to the MTA, the MTA is increasingly more controlled by IFMA as IFMA frequently medals in Australia and has no legal or recognised authority greater than a state based approved body. The WMC is part of IFMA and is not the large credible sanctioning body it once was and really should have maintained a far great effort to unify and lead Muay Thai. Although IFMA world championships is a pathway to world championships, it is not the only pathway, and most athletes would prefer a title fight on a professional show in Australia. IFMA’s Olympic carrot is a continuing dream sold to and marketed to promote tournament participation in the business machine that is IFMA. The reality of IOC recognition and being an Olympic medal sport is a vast chasm. I suggest that the Olympics is not the best path for Muay Thai and would not improve the sport. There is no competition pathway in Australia that builds a pathway to IFMA. We do not like fighting in pads, in multi day tournaments and the concept of paying your own way overseas to fight is not the mainstream athlete goal for our best professionals.

The MTA states: This could work if they left out ‘promotion’, which is a business and requires businesspeople who are funded.

To create a single uniform entity through and by which the sport and the art of Muaythai can be conducted, promoted and administered in and throughout Australia.

I believe a peak body should be able to unify the sport for the benefit of the sport (and its participants) and provide services that contribute to the industry, that a peak body should be focused on Australia and work towards uniting and developing everyone that loves and does Muaythai in Australia. I think a peak body should guide and be responsible for the safety of athletes and credibility of the sport, but not be in the business of promoting the sport commercially. The peak body does not fund any aspect of the sport. Promoters do. Spectators do. IFMA however is funded and sponsored and earns money running their events on a large scale. IFMA never funds anything in Australia, but we have to pay them for the privilege of membership.

Currently the MTA has approximately less than 20% of the market share of promotions and this is dwindling. The MTA logo isn’t the peak and carrot it should be. It has been down graded by states allowing the MTA to run amateur event on the same card as other bodies running professional events.  By not marketing and using the WMC brand as the premier professional label and building juniors and amateurs as it once did.

It is ingrained in the constitution that the MTA is affiliated with the International Federation of Muaythai (IFMA) and the World Muaythai Council (WMC). That is the pathway for the MTA athletes. Although the pretence of a unified national sport is great the practical and legal landscape of Australia make this very challenging. I do not consider that unification through single governance is possible, or even viable in Australia due to these factors.

For the MTA to truly represent the actual Muaythai Industry in Australia, they could consider not being a competitor in the business of promotions. This would then enable the MTA to act as a governing body that unifies the sport, educates participants, conducts training, represents the sports at a government level and represents the safety aspect for all athletes. This would be possible if the MTA was not viewed as a competitive sanctioning body.

For a single body to overs rankings, titles, insurance, officials training, trainer training, development events, sponsorship, media, marketing, government liaison. This would benefit everyone and be worth bellowing too.

Main Discussion

I was for a brief time a promoter and although I understand that aspect, it is not my drive. This is an important key. A single truth we must all face in Australia, the sport is promoter driven. Promoters are the key to any competition at any level and are the ones who shape the landscape of the sport. Anyone that thinks it is the athletes, the clubs, the sanctioning bodies, or the government will benefit from a greater appreciation of the structure of the sport and be better placed to design and control their own involvement in the sport. That shape is controlled or influenced by legislation, organisational bodies, or a significant event. However, it is always the promoters who determine the play, shape, current status and direction of the sport. If no one puts an event on, there is no sport and no competition beyond the participation in clubs as a martial art and fitness activity.

Australia is a federation of states and there is no unified national approach to combat sports from a legislative or governance perspective. It is the responsibility of state governments to define what a combat sport is and the parameters to which they can compete. Whether by action, as in states with a CSA, or by inaction in states without a CSA. When Muaythai/kickboxing competition commenced in Australia, it followed the Boxing model of promoting events for profit from ticket sales. This is still the base of the system regardless of if the scale of the event. There is ZERO funding from any government agency at any level.

The only exemption to the above model was the introduction of sporting organisations hosting their own not-for-profit events, such as tournaments. The MTA Nationals (was) a rare example of this. IFMA is the predominant international organisation that has developed the tournament model and has been successful developing this model internationally. IFMA is now IOC (International Olympic Committee) recognised, based partly on this approach. This has led to many countries now having national teams and national organisations funded to host events and develop all aspects of Muaythai in line with other sports, like how athletics and swimming is funded in Australia. The WMC is amalgamated with IFMA and is integral to the IFMA model. In Australia, the WMC is inexplicitly linked to the MTA and is seen as a credible international body for promotions. Separating the WMC function from the MTA could be considered to better delineate promotional work from development and educational work. However, the WMC, international requires an overhaul to market, rank, promote and rebuild the dying legacy of the WMC. The WBC now outstrips the WMC for professional promotion in Australia for many reasons. One is the WMC amalgamated with IFMA and IFMA has a different agenda. Another is they sanction titles easier (with multiple variants on the basic national champion theme) and are easier to manoeuvre for the benefit of ticket sales and promoter needs. The WBC however is not an approved body in any state or recognised by the Australian Sports Commission, they are not currently a company limited by guarantee or backed by the same legal structure of the MTA or any other sporting organisation in all other mainstream sports.

The MTA is the only recognised federal government sporting body for Muaythai.  The MTA Nationals is a not-for-profit event that generates all funding from entry fee (unique in the sport) and spectators. At least 75% of the funding received goes directly to the event being hosted with the remaining 25% going towards funding a national team coach/manager to travel to a world championship. The MTA is not sustainable without passionate volunteers.  The event would not be possible if it were done for commercial reasons. It is however not a professional event, and it is unworkable to think you can pick a professional national team from this event as our best calibre athletes do not attend.  Juniors do and it is a great event for them, if well attended and IF the selection of any national team is based on merit not who can afford to pay, who trains who, and athletes with limited experience or ability to perform at IFMA.

The MTA is expected to act as a professional organisation and national sporting body but has none of the resources that normally characterise a professional organisation. IFMA has on the other hand upwards of 10 full time staff and charges affiliation fees, sanctioning fees, and other endorsements such as brand recognition payments to fund their activities.  None of this funding is passed on to the MTA, however the MTA has many expectations, rules, and requirements placed on it by IFMA.  An international event is even more onerous, risky, and expensive for the MTA at this time, however IFMA persists with pressure to sustain their business model at the expense of the MTA’s finances and capabilities.  Even when Foreign Affairs advice is to ‘not’ travel and during covid restrictions, IFMA persists at pressuring MTA to attend.

IFMA provides ZERO funding to the MTA or any aspect of competition in Australia. IFMA, although IOC recognised, has ZERO legal status with any state CSA and no legal power to govern any aspect of Muaythai in Australia. Understanding legislation in states governed by a CSA is critical and although IFMA may have opinion or influence, it has no legal status and less power/influence over the sport than a state recognised body or approved promoter for professional events. IOC recognition is a massive status and an incredibly great achievement for IFMA and brings the recognition of Muaythai to a level never achieved globally. This however does not translate into legal status, funding, or operational capability in Australia. It is a great marketing tool that even the cult of personality can not concur.

Although IFMA is now amalgamated with the WMC, the WMC has always been seen as the high-performance arm of the sport and is considered a sanctioning body for professional events. The WMC brand although integral to IFMA is viewed often as just another body, like International Sports Karate Association (ISKA) or World Boxing Association (WBA), with all the other governance and regulatory requirements of IFMA and the MTA discounted.

The MTA has no legal power as a peak body for a sport, but they do have legal obligations and governance requirements imposed on them by the Australian Sports Commission. These governance requirements far exceed the level required to be an approved body in any state in Australia. They include aspects not required in any state or by any other sanctioning body. These include but are not limited to: Anti-doping, Member Protection, financial accountability and transparency, ASIC regulation and auditing, insurances, directors’ policies, a strategic plan and more. These requirements demonstrate a significant difference between the MTA and any other body, but often do not translate into any practical industry power or capability in conducting or hosting events. NSO peak body status is arguably NOT beneficial for Muay Thai to operate successfully in Australia. It is essential for IFMA but for Muay Thai in Australia it is often a burden and difficult to relate to Olympic medal sports.

A state CSA only recognizes bodies (or promoters) approved in that state and requires their own governance and approval processes to be followed. Once approved, all approved bodies are treated equally in the eyes of the law. Although the National Sporting Organisation (NSO), are on equal footing and legal basis with all other state government approved bodies. The NSO status of the MTA or IOC status of IFMA enables us to represent and give opinion only. IFMA has no legal power and less influence in NSW Combat Sports than an amateur approved body that only exists in NSW but still runs world titles! If the MTA were not an approved body in NSW, they would not be able to operate. The significant workload required of the MTA to maintain NSO status (based on governance requirements) is discounted by every state CSA, often to the detriment of Muaythai being a national sport.

In CSA governed states, every athlete, trainer, and official must register and pay to do so. This inhibits any individual membership program as the government manages it all anyway and allows you to compete or work on any approved promotion for the registration, which is also valid Australia wide. This is a good system that makes any individual bodies membership fee redundant.

A major advantage of a CSA, over a state without a CSA, is the oversight for athlete registration, official registration, medical checks, and weigh-in management. All these aspects make the sport safer for the athletes with less chance of corruption and criminal involvement. A CSA makes the requirement for any governance from a NSO or International Sporting Organisation (ISO) irrelevant. Once a body (or person) is approved to operate, the legal status is completely between the CSA and the registered body.  States with a CSA have government officials overseeing registration, weigh ins and the competition itself and control the sport at all levels through legislation.

IOC recognition is a big deal, however, unless a sport is a medal sport the Australian Sports Commission does not increase the status of Muaythai from being an unfunded sport D-class sport. I am confident IFMA is doing everything they can to get Muaythai in the Olympics, however, at this juncture, they are not there yet. Even if they achieve medal sport status, funding is not guaranteed.

  • States and territories with a CSA include NSW, WA, SA, ACT, VIC.
  • States and territories without a CSA include QLD, NT, TAS.

States and Territories without a CSA

The absence of a CSA increases the requirement for a governing body to maintain the standards of the sport, however, this is completely open to the market regarding their choice of sanctioning body. Although it allows for greater freedom and competition, it lacks reliable regulation and increases the risk to the athlete and has no control over who influences the sport conduct. The only control a body can maintain is dependent completely on the market forces, and for IFMA, the MTA, or any other body to be functionally effective, they must attract members at all levels by having not only best practice models, but market effective models to have any influential role in the sport.

Despite the overwhelmingly factual credibility of the MTA structure, the NSO status and the governance requirements of the Sports Commission, the MTA is given no legal power over any aspect of the sport. Any sanctioning body and any promoter can operate unregulated and is free to determine their position purely by market forces or business models. There is no restriction on rules used or a delineation of athlete experience or age development factors. The sport would be better served (especially in states with no CSA) by one management body (and one set of rules) operating as a de-facto CSA for the benefit of all athletes and clubs but this will only be workable with industry cooperation.

States with a CSA can run promoter driven competitions absent of any sanctioning body with their own rule ‘s, titles, and select their own officials. This is not a positive direction for the sport.

Fact is promoters match fights to sell tickets, and the best way to look after fighters is to have an independent body that officiates events for the safety and fairness of the bout. Promoters picking judges, judges being from the same clubs as people fighting and matching all varying on the card regarding rules, protective equipment etc are not great for mainstream credibility.

The crowd not being able to distinguish amateurs from professionals via round times and padding is also marketing based and not in the interests of safety or the credibility of the sport. This serves tickets sales only as it dresses up amateurs to look like professionals, sell tickets and is cheaper than professionals. It is easy to ‘encourage’ a fighter to fight without padding but is it ethical.

Australia is a federation of states.

Australia’s legal structure gives the federal government sporting bodies no legal oversight in any state, therefore when combat sport is legislated, it trumps everything else. Just because the MTA has NSO status it cannot enforce anti-doping policies onto any other body, as states place anti-doping at a lower priority to the Australian Sports Commission (ASC). Each state is responsible for their own legislation regarding sport and no other sport is as regulated or legislated as much as Combat Sports are.

Trade Practices Act (1974)

Australia allows for multiple business to sell, produce, manage, or conduct their operations around the same product. People can differentiate legally by name or service however they cannot own a product unless that product has a registered patent. Muaythai cannot be owned and nobody, regardless of registration status at federal or state level, can have exclusive rights to the conduct of Muaythai. IOC recognition, ASC recognition, and/or state government approved body status give no single body the authority to exclusively control a product or own a sport. It cannot, and will never be, legal for one body to control or regulate Muaythai in Australia.

This is similar to Boxing, as there are many Boxing promoters and Boxing organisations that conduct competition at Boxing separate to Boxing Australia (the NSO) and the representatives for IEBA (IOC recognised body for Boxing). All sport is managed the same way in Australia, and anyone is free to promote cycling, rugby, or cricket if they can organise it, meet the required regulatory set up, and get the backing and market influence. Muaythai will never be solely under the jurisdiction of any one body due to this legal framework.

Many non-IOC sports operate commercially and very successfully in Australia. Some of the largest sports and most commercial are non-Olympic sports. The National Rugby League (NRL) is a prime example.

 

 

The ASC and Ausport

The ASC does not push issues ‘up the chain’ of government. They are a government body that push policies down and manage the existing policies. The ASC manages funding, implements policy and regulates bodies that wish to be a recognised sport, with a profoundly serious focus on achieving Olympic medals for the glory of Australia and not individual sports.

The MTA is recognised but not funded. There can be only one representative body per sport.  The ASC ensures you are following good governance and have extremely strict NSO status requirements, however they have no jurisdiction in any state regarding managing your sport.  They will not help you with a CSA or even support you trying to get Child Protection issues ingrained into your sport at a state level. They are focused on high performance, Olympic medal sports, and large participation and community sports linked to those.

The MTA gets to proudly wear the Australian Coat of Arms and that is an extremely significant aspect of what the MTA does and why the MTA should stand out from everyone else. However, it does not translate into market strength or industry recognition, and the MTA is often not the go-to organisation for promoters. The reverse is often true; the organisation with the highest standards and strictest governance that is ‘not-for-profit’ does not fit into the business model of many promoters. Basically, due mostly to commercial reasons, promoters want to run their own race, which is completely understandable as they put up all the money up and take all the risk. The MTA needs to offer aspects that support and assist promoters, so it is win-win for them and the sport. The MTA may be better served supporting them and not competing with them.

Clubs want the MTA and Ausport logos on their certificates and to be a recognised member. This enhances their credibility. The membership base is made up of clubs that compete on all promotions, with every sanctioning body. They are united by Muaythai, respect the status of the MTA, and on some level admire the position of the MTA and the representation it provides at a government level. They are not loyal to the MTA for promotional events as there is not enough market share to provide enough competitive opportunities.    

The MTA pays annual fees to IFMA for affiliation, and these are required, even during the pandemic when the MTA is virtually financially unviable. When we attend IFMA events, we pay per athlete (and coach/ official). Equipment sponsors and equipment endorsements are another source of funds for IFMA. IFMA enforces an endorsed equipment policy, however, they do not pass on any endorsement fees collected for the use of IFMA approved equipment. These sources of funding for the international body do not have any allocation to a national federation.

The Olympics would certainly be a fantastic marketing opportunity for the sport. It is certainly the goal of IFMA, but we also need to be realistic about the chances and challenges of being selected as a medal sport. We are one step closer, but that last step is massive. Muaythai has been passed over before and has many challenges and competitors to get a final nod. Brisbane Olympics is marketed by IFMA, but the Australian government is lobbying for Netball. Who would you bet on?

There are many recognised sports that are not in the Olympics, for example Bowling and Chess. Many sports have already been given a medal opportunity ahead of Muaythai, including breakdancing and Frisbee.

IFMA over the last ten years

I have trained a junior and senior World IFMA Champion and have a good insight into what is required. I have attended numerous junior and senior world championships as a coach, manager and MTA President. It may be a prestigious event, but for many countries like Australia, it is unfunded! Although it is not amateur, for any Aussie wanting to go, it is self-funded and still viewed in Australia as amateur, due to the padding and the history. In Australia, promoters will pay main card fighters to attend their events which makes any self-funded prospects unattractive. The time and demands of the events are a great experience, especially for juniors, however, for adults it is a massive commitment and expensive.

The standard of competition at IFMA now is extremely high. If Muaythai is in the Olympics I would expect the current standard to lift another notch, as every country takes the sport more seriously and provides more resources. The fact is, Australia does not develop our athletes to win at IFMA as our national scene is promotion, not tournament based. The IFMA ‘style’ is different and Muaythai must be adjusted to include the European countries and the USA, or Thailand is likely to win everything. Olympic Muaythai (and IFMA now) is not Muaythai as we know it. Whether you like this or not, it is a fact, and to be competitive, we would have to change from the ground up.

Our current elite men do not often go to IFMA world championships. When they have, they do not win medals. We have not won an IFMA Gold medal in the male division (A-class) at World Championships in my memory. We have won Gold in the Women’s division; however, this is also rare and depends on many factors. In the last 10 years the standard at IFMA has risen incredibly. Gone are the days when Australia would have a competitive team as the style and lack of funding does not attract our best athletes. There once was a B-class level at IFMA games and this is where Australia was competitive. The rest of the world however has gone in another direction, and many other countries are funded and profoundly serious. We are years behind them. Russia, Thailand, and the USA have funded teams, training camps, medical staff, and a massive base to draw from. The UK sends only athletes that have a chance to win and put all their eggs into 2-3 people. Australia has a lot of work, and some major culture shifts to accept, if we want to be competitive at future IFMA World Championships (or the Olympics).

The only competitive chance Australia has (even for the 2032 Olympics) is in some of the current juniors who have years of IFMA experience and can continue on that track, if supported and developed, with wide eyes and an honest understanding of the IFMA style. Junior IFMA World Championships are a great event and attract the best juniors form around the world. Australia is competitive at this level, and everyone is happy to go self-funded. The event is increasingly more competitive, like adults, with a style difference from Australia, you have to prepare for. Think about other sports as well here, how often is an elite junior a successful adult professionally – rarely.

Combat Sports promotions that inspire people currently

There is a lot of great promotions in Australia and many fantastic fighters. Australia has great Muaythai and a long history of association with Thailand and the current style of Muaythai there. Stadiums in Bangkok are still the best place for the best athletes, and no one doubts the Thais are dominant in this arena. Globally, Muaythai is huge and there are numerous promotions highlighting the sport. The place to be for combat sports is One FC, UFC or Glory. Like Tennis, they are the grand slams of combat sports. Muaythai in Australia is very local and grows from your local promoters to some bigger promoters, however, we are far from a unified and national sport. Muaythai is an extremely hard sport and only few make it to the top. We all support them, but it is a long hard road. What we also need to focus on is that many normal gym goers want to compete and have a go, for a while, as a test of self and a challenge. Long term Muaythai athletes are rare in countries like Australia, a country which does not fund athletes or pay them well for being ‘professional’.

The Olympics is not amateur and attracts the best in the world from all professional sports for that medal opportunity. If that is the dream, follow that dream. Like all great things, there is sacrifice involved and that sacrifice requires you to choose your path carefully as Olympic Muaythai may not be Muaythai as you know it.

Conclusion

The point of this opinion piece is to highlight some realities of Muaythai, who drives it in Australia, and the legislative basis of the sport in Australia. My reason for writing it is to get you to think about ‘what matters’ based on a more informed perspective, in order to determine your path armed with as much information as possible.

Muaythai should be for everyone, and every member of every club should have a safe path to follow and develop as far as they want/can go. Bodies like the MTA can support that development if staffed and run by motivated, competent and selfless people, but the reality in Australia is that one body cannot control the sport and must be shaped to support those that do to be relevant in the future. Promoters, if they are bringing positive benefits to the sport should be supported at all levels. To unite the industry, we need to work together from the ground up. I believe unified rules and regulations and registration of athletes, will help the sport grow. Unified judging courses and officials training to agree on how to score and manage the biases everyone has for what they train. Coach and want to see.

The focus for me is a safe opportunity for athletes to challenge themselves and grow as people by participating in a respectful and challenging sport. That athlete involvement should have a positive influence on their personal development and contribute to a positive community. Athletes, officials, and trainers should all have pathways to develop their skills. Pathways begin at home and very few will make it to the top. Support those that do but put as much effort into participation and industry recognition as you can, and everyone will benefit. Credibility of the sport has always been important to me, and it is a battle I will always fight.

Anthony Manning

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