MMA and Muay Thai fighters taking on second jobs due to lack of funding

  • Watch Katie Templeton Knight's report

MMA and Muay Thai fighters across the UK are facing a lack of government funding, with many forced to take on second jobs. 

Both sports do not receive funding from Sport England, the public body that allocates government money to grass roots sports, because they do not have a recognised governing body.

MMA fighter Lauren Reay, from Carlisle, who has represented her country multiple times and recently won a silver medal at the World Championships, balances her training with working part-time as a graphic designer.

The 30-year-old told ITV News: “If you want to compete on an international level, you've got flights, accommodation, registration fees, more medicals, food when you're over there. The costs are literally endless so even just to compete abroad, you’re looking at at least a thousand pounds before you've spent anything on training.”

MMA fighter Lauren Reay is concerned about a lack of funding becoming a barrier to people entering the sport. Credit: ITV Border

She said that she is concerned about the lack of funding becoming a barrier to people entering the sport. 

“I can imagine for some people it would just be too difficult for them and sometimes not worth it. I'm so focused on the end goal, I know that the money will come but I can imagine it does deter some people,” she added.

Elsewhere, at Dragons Gym in Carlisle, Muay Thai fighters say that their sport is also affected by a lack of funding. 

Thomas McGeachan, 23, who turned professional last year, used to have to balance training with a full time job in Dumfries in Scotland.

He said:  “I’d work nine hours, get the train down, train for two hours, get the train back. That was my daily routine and it was hard. A lot of travel and 14 hour days or something like that. It was a lot.”

Muay Thai fighter Thomas McGeachan turned professional last year. Credit: ITV Border

Gym Owner Christian Percieval also said this lack of funding is exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. 

“We certainly see children who are struggling come in. They want the shorts, the t shirt, their own gloves, their own kit," he said.

“Their parents are struggling financially like many of us are in this day and age with the financial situation that we're in.”

While some fighters at a high level can get sponsorship for training and equipment, it often does not cover everything, especially when competing internationally.

And for many local businesses, sponsorship is not an attractive option when people are competing across the world.

Mr Percieval said: “In somewhere like Thailand, who wants to know about Betty's Butties from Carlisle? It's not really worth it for the exposure for a local business to be plastered on the other side of the world.”

A survey of around 300 gyms by the British Martial Arts and Boxing Association (BMABA) found every single one said MMA and Muay Thai needs more funding.

The data, seen exclusively by ITV News, also showed that 86% said they are finding it hard to keep their gym running in a cost of living crisis. 

Giovanni Soffietto, chief executive of BMABA, said: “I think it shows largely what we already know that mixed martial arts, but martial arts collectively, is chronically underfunded in the UK and it suffers from a huge lack of regulation and support from government across the board.

“We saw that during Covid and we see it post-Covid that amateur martial arts in particular: Muay Thai and the emerging arts don't have any real governance or support that we can see.”

Sport England say that funding is not available because there is currently no recognised National Governing Body for both MMA and Muay Thai. 

A spokesperson said: “Sport England invests in community sports clubs, organisations and projects, rather than individual athletes. Sports Council funding is conditional on there being a recognised National Governing Body (NGB). 

"There is currently no recognised NGB for MMA or Muay Thai, therefore we do not provide funding for these activities.”

A spokesperson for Sport Scotland said: “The majority of Sport Scotland funding for individual sports is issued to recognised governing bodies of sport. MMA and Muay Thai do not currently have a recognised governing body in Scotland.”

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