“Saudi Arabia is fast becoming the significant pipeline of major multi-sport events including the recent World Combat Games, and the upcoming Saudi Games. Access to first-rate facilities, a welcoming and warm population, a skilled event workforce and the excitement within our modern host city made for the perfect World Combat Games destination;” said Ian Reid, CEO of the Riyadh 2023 World Combat Games.

Janice Lynn, Chair of the Athletes Commission stated: The World Combat Games brings together the world of recognized martial arts at the elite level. We were able to witness the best of the best coming together in the spirit of respect, honor, excellence, tradition and fair play.

In total, over 2000 athletes from 120+ countries are competing in 16 martial arts and combat sports at the World Combat Games in Riyadh 2023. These sports included: Judo, Wrestling, Ju-Jitsu + Para Ju-Jitsu, Aikido + Para Aikido, Kickboxing, and Fencing, with Armwrestling + Para Armwrestling, Taekwondo, Savate + Para Savate, Muaythai + Para Muaythai, Sumo, Sambo, Wushu, Karate, boxing and Kendo. The Games was Telecast in over 200 countries providing a grand stage for showcasing Thailand to the world.

Riyadh, known as the money capital of the middle east, was the Martial Arts Capital for the world and from 20 – 30 October where muaythai showcased the science of 8 limbs in strength, tradition and solidarity in 6 full medal disciplines: Combat, Wai Kru (Men’s Women’s and Mixed team), Mai Muay and three Para(S) disciplines, Para Wheelchair (Mixed), Wai Kru (Mixed lower limb), and Special Autistic (Mixed).

The opening ceremony witnessed the presence of distinguished guests from all corners of the globe, including Ivo Ferriani, the President of SportAccord, HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, President of the Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and the Sport Minister. The IOC delegation consisted of the IOC Vice President and various IOC members. Representatives from over 60 National Olympic Committees actively participated in the event. Moreover, the ceremony was graced by the presence of many Royal Dignitaries such as HSH Prince Albert II, Sheikh Khalid, President of the Bahraini NOC, and many more notable figures such as various Heads of State and Diplomatic missions. Certainly, executive representatives of SportAccord and the 16 participating International Federations from the 3 umbrella groups of ASOIF, ARISF and AIMS.

The elements of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water took centre stage as Muaythai was prominently featured as part of the Fire element in the opening show. Set against a backdrop of cultural significance and soft power, Muaythai was represented by the demonstration team from Thailand who showcased their skills on the main stage, fostering a deeper connection between Thailand and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Royal Thai Government was represented by His Excellency Mr. Jakkaphon Tangsutthitham, the deputy General Secretary to the The Honorable Prime Minister of Thailand, Srettha Thavisin, who is expected to visit the Games, further solidifying the bond between the two nations. Also present to represent the Kingdom of Thailand was His Excellency Darm Boontham, Ambassador of Thailand to Saudi Arabia.

Chairman of the World Combat Games, and Vice President of SportAccord Stephan Fox reiterated, “It’s crucial to acknowledge the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s significant role in this event. The Vision 2030 initiative, under the guidance of HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal Al-Saud, emphasizes inclusivity, forming a vital element of this sporting spectacle.”

Sue Glassey from the IFMA Equality Commission remarked how impressive the promotion of non-discrimination, inclusiveness and equity was to developing equality especially in the challenging times we are all facing today. She went on to say that the beauty of martial arts is its ability to connect people and bring them together because of their underpinning values most importantly, respect which is deeply rooted in the tradition of all martial arts. 

Muaythai began with the IFMA Team Managers Meeting which took place at the Saudi Olympic Complex in Riyadh where over 33 countries and neutral countries were in attendance. The Team Manager Meeting was led by IFMA Technical Delegate of the World Combat Games, Dato Shahnaz Azmi, Head ITO, Gunter Plank, Member of the Culture and Heritage Commission, Ajahn Sawaeng, Vice Chair of the Education Commission, Ryan Rudkin and IFMA Director General, Charissa Tynan.

Dato Shahnaz welcomed the delegations to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and highlighted the importance of placing athlete health and safety at the center of the games especially with the introduction of the new special Super 4 format where athletes are given a second chance even if they fall short in the first round. Head ITO Gunter Plank outlined key points regarding the rules and regulations on and off the field of play highlighting the spirit of fair play and clean sport. Culture and Heritage Commission Member Ajahn Sawaeng reviewed the importance of upholding the traditions of muaythai with athletes performing the wai kru prior to their competition. The meeting ended with the draw of the brackets for the Super 4 competition with 7 male and 7 female brackets revealed, demonstrating IFMA’s commitment to full gender equality for athletes.

Combat was definitely not the IFMA’s sole focus, since its inauguration, IFMA has protected and promoted muaythai as a cultural art form and this is why Wai Kru and Mai Muay disciplines were and will continue to be full medal events.

Promoting muaythai for “Every Body” has been IFMA’s campaign for 20 years and now it is paying off, as IFMA’s para and special disciplines made a historical debut in Riyadh. IFMA has been working closely with the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee and Special Olympics International to integrate non-discrimination, equality and inclusion at every level and inform every step forward.

Over the last 13 years, so many stars from around the world have built themselves a legacy status and have become the champion of champions. This is where champions thrive and excel through their passion for martial arts, and their tenacity; where they reach beyond their current limits and get back up again when others can’t, and where the only obstacle is their own mind.

So many former champions of the World Combat Games have inspired, have lighted a spark for today’s champions and these champions which are not born, but made, are travelling to the Kingdom. Notably, many world superstars began on this same platform.

The one and only Valentina Shevchenko, who won the World Combat Games in two editions to become one of the greatest UFC stars of all time. We all remember Artem Levin, a two-time WCG winner, and his legendary final against the Contender Champion, Yodsanklai. Simon Marcus, who has become one of the greatest muaythai superstars. The one and only Igor Liubchenko, 2x WCG winner and still one of IFMA’s greatest champions, winning gold for the second time at the World Games last year. Other athletes like Andre Kulebin, Fatima Pinto, Sawsing Sor Sopit… all legendary icons of muaythai in their own right.

The IFMA’s Director, Charissa Tynan, expressed her deep gratitude and pleasure as she thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the unforgettable experience and to all the participants that worked so hard to be part of this event. 

Stephan Fox, Chairman of the World Combat Games, and Vice President of SportAccord recognised the tireless commitment made by so many organisations, federations and individuals that contributed to making the 2023 World Combat Games such an unprecedented success for all 16 martial arts and their communities.