Over the last year, the very foundations of The IMMAF have been rocked by safeguarding complaints and allegations that led to a mass exodus of national federations distancing themselves from the global federation. We at MMA UK have been at the forefront, bringing you all the news surrounding the body, and making sure that issues don’t get ignored and forgotten about.
The main issues bubbled over and IMMAF had to act, despite their best efforts to quash the loudest voices. They even called an emergency EGM to remove founder August Wallén and board member George Sallfeldt for spreading vicious rumours, which according to the findings of the Portuguese Olympic committee, turned out to be true.
That’s right, IMMAF appointed a team of investigators from the Portuguese Olympic Committee to delve deep into the safeguarding issues that are plaguing the federation. After interviewing a number of witnesses including former staff, volunteers, coaches, and youth athletes, as well as holding one-to-one interviews with the IMMAF board members themselves, including the CEO and President; they have produced a 55-page report which includes 26 recommendations that IMMAF should follow if they want to restore credibility to the brand.
The issues began when it was revealed that Stanislav Nedkov, the president of the Bulgarian Federation had appointed a convicted rapist of a minor as his head coach, who then went on to attend three youth world championships. This was reported to IMMAF back in 2021 but was dismissed as rumors, despite there being a number of online news articles in Bulgaria stating this. The investigation reveals that the man in question, Svetoslav Jelev and his convictions were publicly available in a court ruling database. “it is difficult to see how anyone reading this could think that shouting at athletes or belittling them was anything other than a breach of professional standards, or could think that a national coach with a criminal conviction for raping a minor – publicly available in a court ruling database – participating for several times in IMMAF competitions has not been bound, along with his national federation, to a proper disciplinary procedure following an immediate provisional suspension and report to the police.” “It is by no means acceptable that the IMMAF, knowing of the existence of a national coach with a court conviction for raping a minor, as evidence brought to the Review, does not immediately exert the disciplinary mechanisms foreseen to suspend such a coach and sanction the respective national federation through a due process of law. Nor is it in any way acceptable that IMMAF, knowing about this situation, condones the president of that federation serving on the body with statutory powers to enforce disciplinary procedures.
When IMMAF was quizzed by the investigators on the subject, they went on the defensive, and tried to minimize the report…. “Reactive actions in the wake of a complaint – or, even worse, minimizing a report, disclosure or alert and failing to properly follow it up – and informally asking a national federation to take action or to confirm that they have policies does not constitute an acceptable system for monitoring compliance with a policy, especially a policy which is designed to protect children and vulnerable and notably where a sport governing body, like IMMAF, doesn’t have the means to audit Members Federations’ safeguarding or welfare related policy in any consistent or systematic way and certainly not in a proactive way.”
“Given the above, IMMAF should have recognized that there were issues that needed to be properly investigated and addressed, before the crisis around the 2021 Youth MMA World Championships, which resulted in this Review. Instead, the responses to some of these issues were defensive, vague, reactive, lenient, and less than rigorous, as set out before, even from individuals with skills and certified expertise in safeguarding matters. Even now in the interviews to this Review.” Truth is, IMMAF’s lack of interest in safeguarding as a whole is more than apparent….. “Overall, this suggests a lack of stewardship and an organizational failure, until very recently, to appreciate the central importance of safeguarding, athlete and vulnerable welfare, illustrated by the unreadiness to handle complaints, build and manage a case, open and conduct an investigation or fully cooperate with an Independent Review, at different levels of IMMAF.
An organization too focused on containing personal, professional, and reputational damages, pushing back against what was seen as hostile media stories and disclosures or internal political disputes rather than understanding the victims’ perspective and implementing long-overdue remedies.” Thus far the only response from IMMAF is that they are still analyzing the report carefully so that they can come up with a plan and timeline to implement the recommendations.
The full 55-page report can be found here IMMAF-Safeguarding-Independent-Review,
so free up some time, get your popcorn, and take in the report, it’s pretty damning. There are 26 recommendations listed for IMMAF to follow. IMMAF has no legal obligation to action them, but if they choose to ignore the findings from the Portuguese Olympic Committee, they can kiss their ultimate goal of achieving Olympic recognition goodbye. We have created a list of recommendations ourselves.
1. The entire board to step down. Whilst the current board remains in office, the chances of achieving Olympic recognition for the sport of amateur MMA are nil. If they really care about the sport, it should be an easy decision to step down. If they want to continue with their lavish lifestyles at the expense of young athletes, they will try and stay put.
2. IMMAF must suspend the Bulgarian Federation until they elect a new president in place of Stanislav Nedkov. Nedkov not only knowingly appointed a rapist of a minor to coach youths, he was also a subject of a number of accusations of a sexual nature himself. But judging by how the IMMAF board has acted previously, I’m not holding my breath that any real action will be taken,