Former President of Australia Muay Thai Responds Part 2
By Mike LNg
When news first came out about the former President of Australian Muay Thai John Cockburn being expelled from his post the uproar among citizens of the Australian Muay Thai world was immediate. Rumors began circulating about John Cockburn’s exit and the circumstances surrounding it. It resulted in letters surfacing with communiques between Stephan Fox and John Cockburn much of which was less than flattering to the World Muay Thai Council (WMC) vice-president and International Federation Muaythai Amateur (IFMA) General Secretary Stephan Fox.
John Cockburn had no means of disputing rumors in a public forum so I have elected to give him the space to answer these questions in a public format. I of course invite anyone from WMC to respond as well. My email contact is accessible from the about me page. In this segment Cockburn explains the specific issues he had with WMC and policy that resulted in his unexpected exit from Australian Muaythai Federation.
Question: I have seen on the WMC website Mr Fox’s gym being advertised as the WMC Gym. I have also seen an advert for the MTG Fight night – MTG is Mr Fox’s boxing brand label. Is this appropriate?
Answer: I have never seen any agreement authorizing such arrangements. The average person looking at the website would believe the WMC gym is run for the benefit of the WMC – not Mr Fox and his partner/s. Having a TV show named as Mr Fox’s own brand of equipment – looks very very poor. The TV show is to be aired in Australia but the 1st our Federation became aware of it was when an advertorial appeared in the International Kickboxer magazine – no notice to our national board – very tacky behaviour in my view.
I have seen letters where you are very concerned about the potential for conflicts of position and interest with Mr Fox.
The basis of my concern is that if you hold a position in an organization – the duty to that position must be paramount to your own interests. If there is to be a mixing of your position and your own commercial position there must be full disclosure and agreement by the organization to such mixing. I have never seen any evidence of such disclosure obligations having been met. If you visit Mr. Fox’s office you see a sign on the door saying WMC but when you walk in, there are MTG as well WMC staff and MTG gear being packed for shipping.
I have never seen an international sporting body which has its Secretary General star in a reality TV show but you can see why some IFMA Board Members are reluctant to speak up to get issues resolved.
IFMA/WMC has no named sponsors – look at the website. They do not have commercial/ strategic plans. In fact I don’t remember seeing audited financial accounts for the IFMA or the WMC presented to the Boards which is very disturbing. I say this not to accuse Mr Fox of impropriety with funds but simply to highlight how important it is to have proper disclosure of interests when he operates as a commercial operator in muaythai activities but also holds senior roles.
It was common knowledge just from reading the IFMA and WMC website you worked very closely with Mr Fox – why the problem with you?
I held the view that IFMA had involved itself in some sharp if not unlawful activities and was not operating according to proper corporate governance standards. I also took the view some of its dealings were inconsistent with the best interests of our member countries and the interests of the national Federation in Australia. As Secretary General/VP to the WMC Mr Fox.
The most basic example was when Mr .Fox refused to provide me with a current copy of the WMC Constitution. This was important because a letter had been sent out from the WMC headquarters saying that the national federations (NFs) of the IFMA were not members of the WMC and the WMC would operate directly with promoters across the world as it saw fit. You only need to look at the WMC website to see it holds out the NFs as its draw card for international recognition. I asked a number of our senior IFMA International Executive who confirmed they had never seen a recent constitution. The only 1 that existed had the IFMA as a sub committee of the WMC. Mr Fox found out about my concerns and then accused me of starting a conspiracy against him. As of today still no constitution and your guess is as good as mine as to who are the members of the WMC.
Give me an example of sharp practices
Until I put my foot down, at the World Championships, Mr Fox would have the Australian team compete for another 4 or 5 countries that did not send athletes – he did this to make it sound like IFMA had bigger championships.
Another example was when I discovered he was falsely telling a World Kickboxing Network (WKN) promoter that I was using my influence as a lawyer to block a visa for a competitor from Belarus entering Australia to compete against John Wayne Parr for the WKN world title.
There were continual claims that IFMA membership far exceeded what it really was. Even at the last World Championships we were advised there were only paid up national membership of just over 60 countries. Mr Fox continues to hold out IFMA membership is over 120 countries. Having a gym in a country which says they support the WMC/IFMA isn’t a national federation member.
Another most embarrassing incident for IFMA President, Dr.Tapsuwan, was when Mr Fox went behind his back and agreed to Muslim girls from a number of countries not being required to wear the IFMA proper uniform. Dr.Tapsuwan only found out about it when the athletes were presented for competition and he refused to let them compete. Mr. Fox then tells me that he told Dr.Sakchye he would take all the IFMA members across to the World Muay Thai Federation (WMF). I then have to go and broker an arrangement to allow them to compete with Dr.Sakchye when I should have simply let Mr Fox’s deceit take its course.
There was an issue about visas?
Mr Fox was approaching embassies in Bangkok with a very senior Thai official and attempting to coerce local Thai staff in the embassies into refusing visas for athletes to compete in non WMC events outside Thailand. There are emails confirming this. This is a very fundamental breach of the UN Charter of Human Rights. It isn’t up to a sporting organization to interfere with visas particularly when it would interfere with an athlete’s ability to earn their income.
Mr Fox wanted my ”jpeg” signature for the files so he could use it on letters in support of this practice and I refused.
What about Mr Fox interfering in Australia?
This has been an ongoing problem which started when our National Board resolved to approach Fox Sports directly in 2006. At that time Mr Fox’s good friend Mark Castagnini held the contract with Fox Sports which was worth a lot of money. It was our Board’s intention to start negotiations with Fox Sports directly with the aim of essentially cutting out the middle man and having the money find its way into the sport and particularly our athletes’ pockets. Anyway Castagnini was told, he rings Mr. Fox and Mr. Fox rings me for over ½ an hour from Bangkok giving me a tirade about how important Castagnini was to the sport and even telling me Castagnini had, had a gun put in his mouth in support of the sport.
It has always been my position that Castagnini should have a role as a celebrity commentator and be paid for that but not have him be in a position to control what muaythai would appear on Fox Sports.
What is the relationship between Castagnini and Mr Fox?
Castagnini and Mr. Fox have run annual 2 week tours to Thailand for over 10 years which Mr Fox has told me is worth $500 per student to him. Castagnini’s magazine provides what, to me, is really no more than advertorial support of Mr Fox and his commentary on Fox Sports is very often further advertorial support of Mr Fox. Mr Fox was best man at Castagnini’s weeding several years ago. I have seen an email where Castagnini implores Mr Fox to get him the role as commentator for the final of the Contender Asia series which did eventuate.
I believe Mr Fox was instrumental in having Castagnini commentate the Tyrone Spong/ Nathan Corbett bout which was very embarrassing to Australian muaythai when Castagnini seemingly lost control and commentated his offer to fight Spong’s manager.
Mr Fox has even taken Castagnini to Kazakhstan and had him sit with the Kazak Prime Minister.
I take it Castagnini doesn’t send you Christmas Cards?
He seemed to think I am his enemy rather than the President of an organization looking to look after the interests of its members. He seems to think that his loyalty to and friendship with Mr Fox puts him in some special position beyond being a commercial operator.
Why is Fox so concerned about Australia?
Mr.Fox still travels on a German passport but his wife and child live in Perth Western Australia and he has permanent residence in Australia. Mr. Fox established the Australian federation and I think he still thinks he is responsible for Muaythai’s growth in Australia – even though he hasn’t lived here for 10 years.
How is muaythai in Australia at the moment?
At the elite athlete level we are very strong and we are having regular large promotions but at the grassroots level the sport the sport has now stalled.
In May 2009 we successfully compete muaythai as part of the Arafura Games. July 2009 we are accepted into the Australian Sports Commission as a national sporting organization which means muaythai is now recognized as a sport for funding etc by government. This put us at the forefront of countries outside Asia and Europe as being recognized by our government. Countries like England, Canada, USA and New Zealand are not recognized.
I am aware that your long standing national coach Joe Hilton and your Doctor resigned earlier this year.
So did our Queensland President, our replacement national coach, our Secretary General and our Sports Administrator. The Board became dysfunctional in my view because of continued communications from Fox. I resigned eventually because the Finance Director on the Board wouldn’t withdraw from his position when it was established he didn’t hold the requisite period of membership to hold office. This was even after we paid for a barrister’s advice which confirmed he couldn’t stay on the Board. It was open for me to take court proceedings to force the issue but I decided it was time for those left on the Board to have a go at moving the sport forward without my assistance.
The Federation also had very high powered educational and indigenous liaison officers who were senior in Government and who were actively supporting major initiatives we were planning. They both have now withdrawn their support of the Federation
I have seen letters where Fox challenged your re-election.
That’s correct. Mr Fox, as I have already indicated, in my view, has little concern for or knowledge of corporate governance. Even after we obtained a barrister’s opinion that confirmed the election was in order he still disputed my election. I think it was more a matter that he didn’t want me re-elected ( this was prior to my expulsion from the IFMA).
He then went and alleged that I had not sent out voting papers/notice of the meeting to our members. This straight away blew up in his face because he apparently didn’t understand that it is the role of the Sec Gen to post out meeting/voting materials and he was thereby alleging our Sec Gen was involved in a conspiracy with me. My election was uncontested by any other candidate so it was a stupid thing to try and make an issue of.
Fox’s home state of West Australia is now the home to the WKN and WBC in Australia?
True. If you take out Qld then nearly all major international events are run by bodies other than the WMC. In 2008 Mr Fox started dealing directly with some people in West Australia as if they were not only members of but Executive members of the Australian Federation. Neither had held membership of the federation. I objected to his interference and Mr Fox became quite irrational and even wrote open communications as if they already held roles on our national executive
I eventually had to write to the Chairman of the West Australia Combat Sports Board on a confidential basis to ensure the Govt was not confused by these people holding out Mr Fox’s letters as legitimizing their alleged role with the national and world bodies. Mr Fox became aware of same and made threats of violence against me.
On another occasion he met with them and next thing we know they have established an organization known as the Australian Muaythai Federation (which was the name Mr Fox told them was to be the new name of our Federation after our acceptance into the Australian Sports Commission). I’m not suggesting Mr Fox told them to do that but the reality was that his dealing with them placed us in a very awkward position and he confused the WA gyms as to who was who.
It seems to me that there may be further questions to be asked.
As I said I was happy to have accepted the umpire’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport but since IFMA was not but prepared to do the honorable thing then I am happy to deal with issues publicly. I have already been subject to various threats of violence and otherwise as a result of having raised my concerns.