Interview with IFMA’s Stephan Fox | Muaythai in the Olympics and More

Stephan Fox is the General Secretary of the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur (IFMA) and the Vice-President of the World Muaythai Council (WMC).  He is a huge figure in the...

Stephan Fox is the General Secretary of the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur (IFMA) and the Vice-President of the World Muaythai Council (WMC).  He is a huge figure in the recognition and development of amateur Muaythai in Thailand, as well as international competition with both the IFMA and WMC. After 20 years of work, the International Olympic Committee has just given provisional recognition for possible inclusion in the Olympics – let me repeat that: 20 years of work for that, and Mr. Fox’s response is, “right on schedule.”

above, the full 30 minute interview with Stephan Fox

We cover a range of topics, beginning with:

  • the most recent news of IOC provisional recognition of Muaythai and what that means for the sport
  • the difficulties in establishing an international scoring rule set to unify global Muaythai
  • challenges of including traditional practices from global nations and the history of the sport, while still bringing these traditions to international standards and efforts toward gender equality
  • the issue of the Thai tradition of the bottom rope in Thailand, rules and allowances
  • iMAES – digital motion capture of masters for a codified, global Muaythai curriculum

This was an informal interview at the headquarters of the IFMA in Bangkok. It’s a bustling two floors of office space and there’s always a lot going on, which you can hear in the background, but it’s also incredibly relaxed with the sense of good thinkers all delegated to their tasks. When Kevin and I walk in, we always feel like we’re walking into Google or Apple. It’s young, it’s hip, it’s progressive and organized. I’d visited and spoken with Mr. Fox earlier this year and a few of the things we cover in the interview are followups to what we discussed last time, fleshing out details of some of his interesting, well thought-out perspective. He’s knowledgeable in so many aspects of Muaythai – spelled this way for Olympic consideration – including even once being a former fighter himself, but he’s also so considerate in examining each topic from a multitude of different angles that I could sit and listen to him talk like this all day long. Even though the interview is lengthy, I urge you to listen to it as it’s striking just how Stephan is able to talk about difficult, complex subjects, sewing together often contradictory positions, ever seeking a way for consensus. He does not shy away from dispute or problematic issues as a politician might, but rather hunts for the path forward given possible contention. I have no doubt that the uniqueness of Stephan Fox is what has brought Muaythai this close to Olympic recognition, something that many thought would be impossible.

dsc07452-stephan-fox-and-sylvie

Stephan Fox showing me the enormous IOC application for provisional recognition Muaythai – some of which I am holding in my hands.

When we arrived at the office there were two little girls playing with their toys and stacked cushions on the floor of Mr. Fox’s office. Charissa Tynan, the Sport Director and IFMA Executive Board member in the room next door came out and enthusiastically greeted me, Kevin and Jaidee, then suddenly realized we needed the office and told the girls to move themselves into her own office. The girls were her daughter, and Stephan’s daughter – weekly there is a kid’s day at the office to encourage a family atmosphere. With the background noise of the office, the clattering of fingers on keyboards and the slight echo of voices below, it always feels like something is energetically happening, which was the opposite of what my mom’s office felt when I as a kid, visiting when she was at work. We smiled and happily waited with our dog Jaidee in tow (yep, Stephan previously had said “Hey, bring him right in!”) as the girls diligently moved their set into the next room, and sat down on the sofa across from Mr. Fox’s desk. Even when you’re sitting in that room waiting for the interview, looking at all the countless things there are to examine keeping you perfectly occupied, you can always hear Stephan’s voice from wherever he is in the office building. His voice carries because of his level of speech, but it’s also the way he talks – it’s this almost breathless excitement but it’s measured as well. It’s emphatic rather than loud, and paced like an express train; not hurried, but it’s moving…always moving. The whole room is lined with framed photographs with highly esteemed figures – my favorite of which is a triptych of Mr. Fox with the Dalai Lama trying on a Mongkol – and magazine covers, as well as championship belts and trophies. The room is a museum of achievements and relationships, and also occasionally a play room for children making a fort or something fun out of the couch cushions. It’s amazing.

Mr. Fox swoops in and greets us both with a handshake, then quickly deliberates aloud over whether or not he should put on a button shirt he has hanging on the handle of his office door. (He’s currently wearing a black T-shirt.) “This is informal, casual…” I assure him, “whatever you feel comfortable in.” Mr. Fox quickly pulls up a chair from the front of his desk and leans back into it, without putting on the button shirt, as comfortable as can be ready for anything, and then looks intently at me as a signal to begin. He’s a fierce talker, absolutely certain of himself and his expertise, but he listens just as surely. From his stories about dealing with mountains of bureaucracy and red tape that you can just imagine is involved in negotiating international committee and government jurisdictions, this kind of directness is like a surgeon’s scalpel. It’s highly practiced, precise, and nothing gets done without it. But he’s also incredibly funny, the kind of funny that has you laughing at the same thing months after you heard it. Not jokes, but anecdotes with a cleverness that points to what kind of internal monologue an intelligent person has in an absurd situation when acting politely is the only play allowed on the board. He’s wonderful.

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay

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