Muay Thai – Kickboxing – Children’s Classes – GRIT

Muay Thai (or is it Muaythai?) and why being an Olympic medal sport could be bad for the sport.


What do you love about Muay Thai in Australia? Why do you think having Muay Thai as an Olympic sport would help Muay Thai as we know it? Is an Olympic version of Muay Thai the same as Australian Muay Thai shows? Would Australia be successful at Olympic Muay Thai? Does Muay Thai even have a chance of being in the Olympics as promoted by IFMA? Being an International Olympic Committee (IOC) sport doesn’t mean you are a medal sport, a critical difference glossed over by the International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA).

The Olympics is a massive global phenomenon and the pinnacle of high performance for many sports. Some are entertaining, most only shine every 4 years and are otherwise fringe sports you don’t care about. With the Olympics comes massive TV following, huge sponsorship, government attention, national recognition, marketing, and big global business. Many things are the antithesis of what is good and loved about Muay Thai in Australia. Muay Thai in the Olympics would increase the exposure of Muay Thai at a higher level of government, it would get attention from the Sports Commission and Olympic committee and mainstream media would obviously have more time for Muay Thai but only the style of Muay Thai in the frame and view of where it fits in the Olympics.

Let’s say, the long-drawn-out never-ending carrot and fantasy presented by IFMA of Muay Thai being in the Olympics comes true. What changes for your Muay Thai? Is there funding? Is there automatic mainstream media, will anyone care more? Of course, they will on the fringe, and a few athletes might get some attention. That is great for them and the sport from a public perspective. It is the business that is the Olympics that will benefit the most and those directly associated. Any filtering down to our Muay Thai shows and athlete development is unlikely and if anything, the attention will be detrimental and change the way we play and what we love.

Muay Thai fans and fighters love our shows. We love Destiny, MTGP, Rebellion and the many local shows. We love stadiums in Thailand, we love One FC, they love a good fight. Even at an amateur level, we train and run promotions like professional events. We love the way Thai’s do Muay Thai, we love training in Thailand. We are not fans of padding for professionals.

I hope I am proved wrong one day and IFMA get their version of Muay Thai in the Olympics because it would be great so see. Then we will see if any changes occur to our sport that are tangible and positive. It will be IFMA Muaythai not Muay Thai as we love it. It can be as simple as the name. We do Muay Thai. IFMA does Muaythai, but it is not the same. I have been to over 5 senior and junior IFMA games and it is a massive global event. A true World Championships, tournament style event that is a great experience for all who attend. It is one pathway to follow but only one pathway option. An option that is not our most preferred pathway over fighting locally, being on the best shows and fighting for titles in Australia and overseas.

A minority of athletes can do both, however as it is all self-funded, the scoring is different, the competition is intense, and the standard is incredibl., Australian’s who are great in Australia are rarely successful at IFMA. I have always argued that we could be, but only if fighters and coaches ‘focus’ 100% on winning at IFMA. That’s start well before turning up to the event. It means running shows and scoring and preparing through like style competitions – that we do not have in Australia. If the good juniors we have with IFMA experience, transition into adults that go to IFMA Senior games, then we have a chance. However great juniors being great adults is also rare in any sport. IFMA is vastly different to 10 years ago. We now compete with fully funded countries that are rewarded financially with medal success, like our swimmers are at the Olympics. Team USA, Team Russia, Team UAE are funded teams, with Dr’s, physios, and funded coaches. They have selection events that are massive, and their country is behind them at all levels. They compete locally like at IFMA. If IFMA Muaythai is in the Olympics, those countries will throw more $ at every level. China will step up, Thailand will step up (as they rarely win medals at anything so this is there big chance). We will get some funded athletes but there is always a catch. Any team will be a part of the overall Sports Commission approach. They control the funding, and the athlete is part of their team, it is not a Muay Thai team. There will also be a funded coach but like other sports, selected by the sports Commission. You get in the team, that’s the coach and trainer and nothing about your club or your trainer will be involved unless they buy a ticket to watch. Look at Boxing, the AIS coach is not a coach from a club at all and they have a history of selecting overseas coaches. The athletes do camps at the AIS and some overseas lead up events but there is not funding for anyone, just bills paid. The biggest kicker is that there is likely to be, at best, 2 male and 2 female in the team. The weight divisions will be set by outside forces and have nothing to do with who is the best fighters in Australia, just who fits the selected weight divisions. There is also likely to be regional qualification required, so all of Oceania will be competing for a few spots.

You cannot have an Olympic sport with the name of a country in it, so IFMA changed the name to suit their agenda. One of the many things that IFMA changes and adjusts to focus on what the IOC prefers. Is there funding when you are in the Olympics? YES, but most of any big dollars comes in sponsorship with the benefit being a part of the overall Australian Team, nothing will go direct to Muay Thai grass roots, or competition. Currently Muay Thai is deemed a D-class unfunded sport, if it is a medal sport, it will be a D class, funded sport. However, don’t think for a minute the sports commission gives money away, they control the funding and are very particular about what it is spent on and who. The MTA won’t get the money, but they may get some funding to employ a CEO, a financial manager, a high-performance coach etc but all of this will be strict sports Commission scrutiny. It won’t go to athletes, trainers, or promoters.

Australia has a high-performance priority system. Meaning if you have a high chance of medals and are proven at doing so, you get more of a chance of funding. Think swimming. Muay Thai has very little evidence of winning world champ levels, despite how good we think we are on our own shows. The Sports Commission doesn’t care about this.

I have created a list of what you can expect if Muay Thai is in the Olympics and what is different.

  • The Olympics would be padded tournament events over 3 rounds. Scored IFMA style.
  • Only a few athletes in very limited weight division will get to compete.
  • No trainer or club will be able to corner or attend in any capacity the event.
  • Funding will be strictly for development of selected athletes under the control of the Sports Commission, like Boxing and Judo.
  • We (Muay Thai) would have to demonstrate a management and financial structure capable and competent enough to manage funding and events before we were given any money to manage ourselves. I don’t see this happening to SC standards any time soon.
  • Muay Thai is not unified as one sport. We have many pathways and options, and our best male athletes rarely compete at a self-funded, expensive, time-consuming overseas event.
  • No one wants to fight in pads on our shows and we would have to have pathways to Olympics following this padded tournament style. We ‘view’ IFMA as amateur not elite level and not a progression to world class fighting. IFMA is elite professional and has its own style.
  • Scrutiny would increase. Drug testing, medicals, government oversight would increase. This can be good for safety and credibility but not if it is driven by the IFMA agenda for padded tournaments and their agenda to control/manage Muay Thai as their world sport. States without government combat sport legislation would get one and regulation would increase everywhere.
  • Do you watch IFMA games or OneFC, Thai stadiums events and Local title fights. You may watch IFMA if you know someone but normally, you don’t bother.
  • To win at IFMA you must fight that style more often and prepare for it. Changing everything about our scoring and what we know as Muay Thai.
  • Have you seen Tae Kwon Do or Judo change or grow because of the Olympics? They have factions, different pathways but are still sports that do not have a professional entertainment aspect to their sport, like Muay Thai has always had and is proud of. No one buys tickets to watch Tae Kwon Do or Judo at the local club or on prime TV.
  • We want to be special, to know our Muay Thai is tough and professional and fills venues.
  • IFMA Muaythai will always be a faster, cleaner, safer looking watered down version of what is best of Muay Thai. Is that your sport?

IFMA Muaythai is IOC recognized and IFMA has made a big deal of getting this accreditation, on a few occasions. They gloss over the significant difference between being IOC recognized and being an Olympic medal sport. It is massive achievement for them and done a lot to globalize Muaythai. Their junior events are epic and great development.

IFMA is on the reserve bench, they are on the bus to the Olympics but can’t get off, they have picked in the squad but have never made the team. IFMA regurgitates its IOC recognition when it gets renewed as a pathway to the Olympics, but it is a marketing carrot. Muaythai is not an Olympic sport. IFMA manages the WMC and are completely integrated as one organization however their focus is Olympics, not Muay Thai as the WMC was once known for. Meanwhile, many other organizations run great events, notably the WBC and ISKA are globally huge. Do fighters want a WBC belt or IFMA medal?

Why can’t Muay Thai get that final step and why is passed over every time for other sports? Sports like frisbee, Break dancing, Skateboarding, Karate etc. There are many reasons, and one could just be Muay Thai, as it is really loved, isn’t palatable for the IOC, that’s not IFMA’s fault. Muay Thai is not a fit in one box sport, owned and run by one organization like soccer or tennis and no one of would want that. The damage, the violence, the excitement and brutality is what we love about watching fights. The IOC doesn’t promote that.

Is IFMA Muaythai truly a global sport? I would suggest it is not, and is dominated by a very few countries and a this aspect would increase if it is in the Olympics. Despite how many world champions you may see in Australia, we are not one of the countries that dominate IFMA.

Brisbane Olympics is coming around and in the IFMA Muaythai circle IFMA is sprouting their chance of being a medal sport but outside the Muay Thai world, Australia at all levels of government is pushing for Netball to be included. Muay Thai is not an mainstream Australian sport that represents the country. The only chance IFMA Muaythai has if is Thailand hosts the Olympics and as host country gets a choice but even then, does the IOC want a sport dominated by one country, which it is likely to be.  IFMA pushes the Muaythai tradition to set it apart, but this direction is flawed for any IOC Olympic inclusion. No other sport maintains its traditional country routes in their rules and promotes one culture. This is tourism not sport. This is why Kickboxing has a greater chance of being included. Thai culture inclusion is not what the world stage wants at the IOC. The Wai Kru, flowers, a lot of bowing, Thai music in the background and rituals around getting geared up are not what any other sport includes on the world stage. IFMA’s persistence at this will keep Muaythai out of the Olympics despite their sneaky name change.

Violence. Knockouts, concussion, cuts, screaming crowds and what we love about a good fight is not what the IOC world wants to see. They want to see breakdancing and Skateboarding.

There is no conclusion, only the future on what happens. I love Muay Thai and hope it grows more global and more popular with mainstream media but never at the expense of what it is and what makes it great. Being one of the toughest and most demanding sports in the world.

Anthony Manning


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