Regarding the crew from USAToday, not one inch of copy ever made it into print. Neither the finals nor the team scores earned even a box score mention, exactly what NASCAR receives on a regular basis for something as uninteresting as qualifying times for even their lesser races. So what does all this mean; simple, everything else that happened in sports that weekend was more important than what we were doing in Oklahoma City.
Message received; wrestling isn’t relevant.
Many in the sport look to what we believe to be a strong scholastic base to support our optimism for wrestling. Unfortunately those numbers don’t hold up under scrutiny. In 1978 we had roughly 375,000 high school wrestlers in a country of 195 million citizens. Today the United States has 315 million people and 272,000 scholastic wrestlers. So that means with the drop in participation numbers and an increase in our population base, we’re at 50% or half of what we use to be in the 1970’s. And relative to the number of high school programs, we’ve lost more of them in the last 30 years than we’ve lost collegiate programs.
Now I guess it’s appropriate to commend our sport for always trying to see the glass as half full. There’s no doubt we’re optimists in many ways, rose colored glasses and all but to point to the low hanging fruit as proof of the sports health while ignoring the fact that the rest of the tree is dying is deeply depressing.
Wrestling doesn’t need to make changes to survive, it needs a major overhaul.
We’re in trouble folks and honest introspection, as much as it might hurt, must start at the sports core and why I’m writing.
“Wasn’t it the woolly mammoth who said, “Who me, I don’t need a sweatshirt?”
The most current slant on the health of the sport comes from USAWrestling regarding this past summer Olympic catastrophe. “We did it! America joined hands with the rest of the world and through our collective leaderships saved wrestling.”
Not true; that statement is clearly worth at least 3 Pinocchio’s. Yes we’d all like to believe the sport came together and they did to a degree but that’s only part of the story. What leadership isn’t telling anyone is they were the ones who provoked the fight in the first place. They were the ones who repeatedly, and inexcusably, punched the IOC Executive Committee in the nose with their arrogance. Now they want the wrestling community to focus on what appears to be compassion on their parts for driving the IOC to the hospital.
Wrestling created the hostility, our leadership triggered the response that each of us felt with great clarity. FILA primarily and USAWrestling to a lesser extent is directly responsible for the millions of dollars and thousands of man hours the sport spent, and couldn’t afford, fixing something they caused. Now they want our gratitude for a job well done that a majority of which was actually accomplished by Russia’s President Putin and a few ultra-rich sultans in the Middle East.
It’s interesting to note that every member of both organizations leadership teams after the smoke cleared still had jobs. Once again arrogance, entitlement and I’ll cover your 6 o’clock position while you cover mine way of doing business. This is why wrestling remains dormant and we’ve grown accustomed to failure; because no one is ever accountable. The term, “I take full responsibility” actually means “I will not resign and I’m not about to hold anyone else accountable either.”
We might want to ask ourselves; if leadership at FILA and USAWrestling is capable of overlooking the truth, are we actually safe? They say we are but is the relationship with the IOC really fixed?
If you remember, it was about a year and a half ago when wrestling was not only a Core sport in the Olympics but it was one of the two foundational sports out of 28 that make up the Summer Games. Since then we’ve been downgraded to Provisional sport status on the strength of receiving 1 more vote from the IOC than was required. Stated differently, we were only 1 vote away from not making it back into the Olympics. I know you didn’t hear that from USAWrestling.
The bottom line is we’re definitely not sitting at the head of the Olympic table, nor are we even at the table. Instead we’re eating in another room with the children where we’re expected to be seen and not heard. That’s embarrassing, our sport and each of you deserves better.
The point is wrestling is in as much trouble internationally as it is domestically because FILA (now United World Wrestling) doesn’t have an oversight committee and USAWrestling has a Board of Directors that’s the size of an orchestra. There’s no one managing the managers in Geneva and Colorado Springs is actually run by 3 people (depending on who’s counting) who fancy Alexander Dumas’s all for one and one for all management style. It’s a quid pro quo relationship that doesn’t benefit the sport, only those in power.
Let’s take a moment to discuss this year’s miserable 9th place finish by our world freestyle team and Greco’s equally poor performance.
It was so bad our freestylers were only 1 point away from finishing 11th as a team and Greco only had two wrestlers that placed in the Top 10. I’m not talking about medaling here, I’m talking about finishing in the Top 10 of their individual weight classes.
We did so poorly that both squads finished behind Cuba as a team; that’s an island nation which is smaller than New York with half their population.
How bad is all this; well, given that America has more wrestling rooms and wrestlers than any country in the world, has better nutrition, medical care and far more sports psychologists than anyone else, you tell me?
I just can’t believe having all this going for us that USAWrestling can’t succeed. Something is definitely wrong and it’s been repeating itself year after year now for over a decade.
Do you realize that since the Olympics in 2000, America has had not counting Jordan Burroughs whom I’m not sure anyone can take credit for given his God given talent, that we’ve had only one world freestyle champion! America should have one every year, not one every 14 years. It’s leadership; we have the car and the engine, just no driver.
As to those perception changing rules the world’s governing body adopted as a result of our Olympic challenges, you should have seen the Gadisov-Gazyumov world finals at 97 kilos. This match could be Exhibit A regarding how well the new rules are falling short of their goal. Gadisov won 2-1 in the finals, but all three of the points scored by both wrestlers came from the sports very subjective “shot clock.” Yawn.
Gazyumov was put on it twice and failed to score both times in the allotted 30 seconds, and Gadisov once with the same outcome. The Gold Medal was actually won in a match where no one scored an offensive point. No takedowns, no reversals, no exposures, no escapes. Try explaining that to the IOC who, given their recent displeasure of wrestling, directed our leadership to find ways to increase scoring and make our events more spectator friendly.
The announcing at the World’s was almost as bad. Who picks these people? The match was full of misstatements and short on any background information or any mention of athlete rivalries. Scoring was not explained, there was little enthusiasm in the announcers voice and quite honestly, a conversation with my dentist would be more exciting.
A video of that finals match can be seen here but I have no idea why anyone would want to watch it. But, if you’re going to chance it, pour yourself a glass of water first; it’s quite dry.
The second directive the IOC made perfectly clear to wrestling’s leadership, but not reported in the news, was the need to eliminate cheating. Matches were being bought, titles given away and at times it was so obvious that anyone who could add 2 plus 2 plus 2 and come up with 6 could recognize it.
Here’s a pretty good example of how well the old FILA has done to discourage unprincipled officiating. This was the middle weight Greco finals for the Asian Games held this month.
As you read the article, scroll down to the Iranian vs. South Korean match. I felt so sorry for the referee. Anyone who can cheat an athlete this badly has to be totally devoid of scruples.
Now I realize our problems can’t be laid in the laps of any one organization or individual but collectively all of us are responsible. I’m not sure who said it but there are three types of people in the world. The kinds that make things happen, those who watch things happen and the third group is where wrestling is now; about to wonder what just happened?
Wrestling must focus on the creation of an environment that attracts new spectators while doubling its efforts to retain the athletes it has.
Please notice I have yet to use the words fan or fans in this document. Instead I use spectator or spectators for a very specific reason; consistency. You see wrestling has this tendency to interchange words that have different meanings. And with such regularity that it’s probably why Roget began his thesaurus, Webster his dictionary and why spectators and referees scratch their heads.
To be clear, fans are individuals who enjoy the sport of wrestling but don’t necessarily attend events. Spectators on the other hand are those who purchase tickets. So coaches, athletes, table workers, support personnel and anyone who receives a complimentary ticket or sneaks in the back door are not spectators.
By that definition it should be obvious that wrestling is extremely short on spectators and long on fans. That puts us in the serious liability category with most athletic administrators and another reason why we’re not on the media’s radar as a desirable sport. Attendance is always the deciding factor when the media decides what to cover.
Here’s why the 2014 Maryland State High School Championships wasn’t covered. Granted it’s not Pennsylvania, Ohio or California which have better crowds but for a majority of the states, I’m sorry to say this is representative of who shows up for wrestling. Then when you eliminate those 300 athletes, 200 coaches, 50 event personnel and 24 officials who can be seen here, well, how many actual spectators did this tournament have?
Now let’s talk about another aspect of wrestling that should get every ones attention; stalling. It always seems to be a problem for the sport and it certainly is; but the why of it always seems to elude our leadership. That’s because we define stalling one way and Webster defines it another. This is why spectators become confused when stalling is called and why officials never seem to get it right.
In wrestling we refer to stalling as inactivity or a lack of action; but you won’t find those words used in any of Roget’s editions under the word stalling.
Stalling (Thesaurus: English US) delaying, deferring, postponing, suspending, arresting.
So when officials call stalling and the spectator, especially those who are new to our sport, sees action taking place, they become confused.
Action (Thesaurus: English US) movement, motion, battle, fighting, combat, clash.
Wrestling’s problem with stalling is we have a disconnect between the word and its meaning.
All this is easy to fix but I should warn you, you won’t like what I’m about to suggest; at least initially. So give it some time before you call for my beheading.
To begin, may I suggest that we eliminate the word stalling from our vocabularies as well as any mention of it in our rule books and replace it with the word action; which happens to be the same adjective that FILA uses. Then from that point forward everything we do, think and say must be defined by that word.
Now I realize most of you will say, “I don’t like it” as you read further but please take the time to let this seed geminate before condemning the solution. In one sense we’re all on the same page that everyone wants to see action and no one wants inaction. Can we all agree on that? I need you to answer that question before you read any further.
Let me ask a couple questions. In football, a wide-receiver who’s running for a touchdown and being chased by the cornerback and free safety; is that action?
No question about it; it’s what makes football so exciting, the breakaway touchdowns. But if that scenario were a wrestling match, wouldn’t the ball carrier be penalized for stalling because he’s eluding contact and not engaging his opponent? Isn’t he purposely running away from the other players so he won’t be taken down?
Does a running back seek out the middle linebacker or does he do everything he can to avoid him? Doesn’t that mean the runner is stalling if he doesn’t get tackled? But can we agree there’s a great deal of action due to the avoidance of contact?
In boxing, Mohammad Ali would have been disqualified from every match he ever competed in using the rules of wrestling. He never took a step forward ever, always dancing, dodging and moving backward while jabbing those who pursued him into unconsciousness. But wasn’t he the best ever at creating action; even if he was stalling?
Tennis players don’t hit the ball to their opponents; isn’t the idea of tennis to keep the ball away from the other person? In wrestling we’d consider that stalling as well because the players aren’t “engaging” their opponents. But the basis behind tennis is to stop the action before it gets started; make the other guy miss the ball. Yet millions love to watch how well tennis players can stall.
The job of a basketball player is also to keep the ball away from the other team. Basketball is all about playing keep away and the more it succeeds the more action the spectator sees. But like the other sport examples, if basketball was played using wrestling rules, whoever has the ball would be guilty of stalling.
Might there be a common thread here? Every sport, including wrestling, adores action. But in wrestling, it’s the only sport I know that goes out of its way to penalize action.
“Now wait a minute Wade, what do you mean we penalize it?”
Part 5 next Sunday.