Muaythai in the Olympics

A few days ago a friend of mine posted this video on my Facebook timeline which I have seen a few times before, but this time something in it really got me thinking.

For those who aren’t familiar with the sport Muaythai, it has international organisation for, both professional and amateur divisions. Like any sport, these organisations are necessary for the structure of the sport and are responsible for its growth locally and internationally. IFMA (International Muaythai Federation of Muaythai Amateur), the biggest global amateur federation have done loads for the growth of the sport for over a decade and currently have over 120 member nations. Their basic aims, as far as I know, are to protect the heritage of the sport and to grow Muaythai internationally. One of IFMA’s current aims is to get Muaythai into the Olympic Games, the world’s largest sporting ground which gets broadcast to billions of eager viewers. As you can imagine, this is a very long and complicated process that requires funding and a very dedicated team (I have seen that they currently have both and are definitely heading in the right direction).

There are two aspects regarding the incorporation of Muaythai into the Olympics that I wish to discuss here. Firstly, what its current application status is, and secondly, whether or not its incorporation will benefit Muaythai as a whole.

What is the current state in application for Muaythai into the Olympics?
As you might have read earlier in the year, wrestling has been removed from the Games. You can read an article on it here. From my point of view and experiences this is due to TV ratings. Ultimately, the Olympic Games is a TV show and has to make its sponsors/advertisers/investors happy with better TV ratings. This led the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to review all 26 sports currently featured in the Olympics and thereafter they decided that wrestling needed to be dropped. I realise that wrestling might not be the biggest spectator sport, but seeing as the Olympics is quite a strong tradition-based event and wrestling is one of the original sports from the ancient games, I would think that it would be kept. Apparently not. As stated in the article above, it is allowed to reapply to be included, but from what I have read so far this looks unlikely. Other sports that are applying for inclusion into the Games not 2016 in Rio but the following one in 2020 are: baseball, softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wake boarding and wushu. I do not see Muaythai anywhere on this list. That said, only one of these sports will be included.

There are also a few restricting factors that will limit Muaythai’s chances of being included in the Olympics. Firstly, a sport’s name may not include the name of a country in its name ( which I presume this is to avoid any bias). This restriction has been circumvented by ‘changing’ the name from Muay Thai to Muaythai. This is not really a name change as such, but if it’s acceptable, I’m satisfied. The other obstacle is that there seems to be a tendency to want to remove combat sports from the Games, especially after the Taekwondo incident in 2008 where an athlete disagreed with the referee and then proceeded to kick him.

So where does this leave Muaythai’s application? I am actually a bit unsure. I’ve been told by various sources, albeit colloquially, that it is to be included in Rio 2016 but others have said it’s pending 2020. Realistically, I don’t see either happening so soon


Will this really be for the benefit of Muaythai?
The main benefit Muaythai will receive from being included in the games is the vast exposure for the art. This in turn will produce increased interest and thus bring in sponsorships and money to make it a more sustainable livelihood for all involved:; definitely a good thing. Where potential issues may arise, and I suppose this goes for all amateur competition, is the changing of rules and scoring. To fit into the Olympics’ criteria certain things need to happen, like the use of protective gear. In Thailand, boxing is already scored low because of the use of gloves as opposed to the old school method of just using cord. This happened decades ago when Muaythai started becoming mainstream in Thailand and therefore had to be standardised.

Next: the difference in rules.There are certain subtleties that make the amateur style very different to that of a professional fight. For instance, in an amateur bout, a clinch may last only 3 seconds and throwing or dumping your opponent does not count in your favour. Another big sticking point for me is that if you knock down your opponent and he/she gets an 8 count, this does not count against them. It doesn’t really make sense to me to have a situation where a fighter has almost KO his/her opposition and doesn’t win the round. Obviously if he comes back and then begins to dominate the fight (after recovering from his 8 count), he should win, but this is rarely the case. The last big sticking point for me is the inclusion of the Ram Muay Wai Kru. This is the ritual dance you see fighter performing before a fight that is meant to pay respect to one’s teacher, parents and ancestors. I know IFMA want this to be included, but I find it hard to see Olympics allowing it. This would be due to time schedules of TV and the fact that, well, the majority of viewers won’t want to watch it being performed before every fight. They might enjoy it once, but after the fourth fight or so they will definitely tire of it.

I would really like to get some discussion going about this and hear your thoughts on the matters discussed or any other related topics. So please leave a comment below.


About Guy Lazarus

I am a South African Nak Mauy with a keen interest in MMA and combat sports in general. I run to give the world of fighting a South African Nak Muay's perspective. I have been competing in Martial Arts since the age of 7 with some success having come 3rd at IFMA World Championships and have my provincial colours for Judo. One day I will grow up and relinquish my dream of being world champion, but not yet...

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