Wrestling isn’t what it used to be before. Is it good or bad?
Everything has changed in global wrestling in the recent years, be it the rules, distribution of powers or undercurrents, including those related to the political processes.
Global sports can’t be imagined without scandals and backroom dealing nowadays. The latest reports on doping use, disqualification, special commissions, emergency sessions and disclosures are unlike to surprise anyone.
The recent high-profile scandal occurred exactly in wrestling. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to annul the results of as many as 16 athletes participating in the 2008 Olympics, saying the doping tests had been allegedly rechecked (more than 8 years later – that’s a new record!) and violations had been revealed. Thus, the results were annulled and the athletes were disqualified.
Azerbaijani wrestler, Vitaliy Rahimov, a winner of silver medal at those very Olympics, was one of those who got into trouble.
“It’s ridiculous. I passed a doping test twice before the Olympics and then was tested twice in Beijing. I was clean, no doping was found. We were also tested after the tournament. So, how come that four-time testing proved doping-negative and 8 years later it has turned out that I was using banned substances”? that’s how Rahimov himself commented on the IOC decision.
Indeed, why raking up the past and delving through the 8-year-old records, especially as those results are of no importance now and many of those, who had been disqualified, finished their sports career long time ago?
Back in 2013, the United World Wrestling (UWW), then known as the FILA (French: Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées, lit. International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles), was bogged down with problems and conflicts. Things came to such a pitch that the organization’s Executive Committee issued a vote of no-confidence to the structure’s most experienced President, Raphaël Martinetti. At that time, the Swiss had been heading the FILA for already 11 years and he enjoyed good reputation not only in the sports circles, but also at the level of heads of states.
However, his rule came to an end after the IOC had actually issued an ultimatum: either Martinetti would resign or the Organization would exclude wrestling from the Olympics’ program. Claims for frequently adjusted rules in this sport and its low-rated world broadcast were brought as an argument to substantiate the aforesaid.
At the special meeting, the heads of national federations disavowed the Swiss and unanimously elected the Serbian Nenad Lalović. For the first 2 months he performed as the ‘acting head’ and then became the organization’s full-fledged president. On a side note, the first decision he made was to rename FILA into UWW (United World Wrestling).
The UWW was to face inevitable changes. Martinetti’s supporters were gradually retreating and withdrawing into the shadows. To put it short, the global wrestling was in anticipation of revolutionary ideas, bold decisions and a jolt of fresh air. Lalović put all the aforesaid into effect and won not only the IOC’s approval, but also that of the leading powers in the world of wrestling.
Lalović started with refereeing reform, or, to be more precise, with laying down more clear rules, licensing and professional development of referees, thus considerably reducing the scandals over biased and unfair refereeing.
Expansion of the tournament’s host nation geography was another novelty, introduced by the newly elected UWW head. Unlike former leadership, that ‘dispatched’ the prestigious tournament only to the ‘tried-and-true’ countries, under the new leadership the important wrestling tournaments are now held in Finland and Iran, India and Thailand, as well as in Egypt, Mongolia, Algeria and New Zealand. This diversity has allowed the wrestling fans across the globe to see the world’s strongest athletes at first hand, as well as to make sure of how the important tournaments are organized by this or that country.
The aforesaid also heightened the interest within the countries, where local authorities, commercial and sports organizations have started focusing more on development of relevant infrastructure, investing in athletes and creating conditions for wrestling development.
Major tournament finals have been proceeding amidst tough struggles, spectacular scrums and the excitement around them have led to an increase in the number of participants, ensuring mass involvement. All the aforesaid, in turn, has attracted new financial flows. Unlike the past few years under Martinetti’s rule, now the UWW no longer faces financial problems and is capable of holding as many tournaments as required, as well as generously award the winners.
On the side note, one of the most important novelties attributed to Lalović is a new regulation on change of sporting citizenship, setting aside the need to change one’s national citizenship, as well as abolishing a two-year quarantine in case of mutual consent on part of the national federations. In addition, it has provided for payment of considerable amounts to a delegating party and allowed an athlete to work and live in a new country.
This decision finally erased all boundaries between the countries and different training schools. For example, a Ukrainian female athlete currently performs for the UK women’s national team, whereas a Cuban defends the honor of Italy men’s national team. On a side note, the latter has been recently granted his ‘new homeland’s’ award for great services.
Naturalization has also become mass-scale in Azerbaijan, which has long established itself as a good host for mercenaries. And then some resentment has been immediately voiced: many believe that this process can completely destroy the local wrestling school, and that will be particularly disappointing, especially given the popularity of this sport in Azerbaijan. After all, wrestling is actually a traditional ‘popular’ entertainment in the Caucasus. On the other hand, wrestling, if taken as a sport, in general, has benefited after each country was given an opportunity to ‘buy’ any sportsman and receive medals.
Now we cannot but argue how productive the UWW new leadership’s reforms proved to be and where would they lead the global wrestling. No one can ensure that over the years the UWW’s ‘kindness’ won’t lead to new conflicts of interests and won’t once again destabilize the sport that is so much cherished in the Caucasus.