How We Got Here?
It’s often said, “It’s wiser to whisper advice from cover than risk doing it while walking point.” Although I understand the benefits of whispering, there is simply too much riding on the sport’s current issues to remain silent.
We’re in a place similar to where we were 50 years ago during the 70’s when a small but determined group of wrestling’s elite decided enough was enough. That was the beginning of the end for the AAU and its reign as America’s national governing body for sports. Now I’m not calling for an organizational coup but I am pointing out there are times when change is absolutely necessary.
We were right then and I’m right today, the leadership of our international styles has failed us again. Besides the Olympic challenge we face, which is the granddaddy of all screw-ups, medal production is way off too. During the last 10 years of Newt Copple’s reign as AAU chief, when our wrestling programs were in disarray we won 6 Gold and 9 Silver at the World Championships in freestyle. That’s compared to 2 Gold’s and 4 Silver’s during the most recent 10-year period with techniques, salaries, facilities, nutrition, travel revenue and sports medicine at record levels.
The IOC is certainly aware of wrestling’s leadership issues and made a very public statement about it in February. Television gets it and continually takes a pass on covering our international events. Even America’s athletic directors see the void in our governance which doesn’t bode well for the sport domestically.
So here I am, a one man press corps asking the questions that need to be asked, sharing with you the other side of the coin that FILA and USAWrestling prefer not to tell you. Trust me, you’re only being told what management wants you to hear.
More on that in future blogs, but for now here are a few prescriptions for healing. The first is what FILA needs to tackle and then what USAWrestling should consider:
- First, foremost and paramount, we must take the opportunity for corruption out of the sport. This will take some carefully crafted rule changes complete with penalties that affect both the offending individual(s) and the country(s) they represent. The sport must at all costs put outcomes back in the hands of the athletes.
- Actively pursue global sponsors, companies like Chevrolet, Adidas and AT&T. FILA needs businesses that can “go to the mat” for the sport. Right now would be a good time to have some corporate clout backing our efforts.
- Review of all their rules to see if they pass what I propose as the “Additional Scoring” test; do they encourage scoring? If not, they go the way of the dodo bird. Everything FILA has on the books must encourage scoring. The goal is to force athletes out of their comfort zone which will probably have a bunch of them squawking but everything they do must focus on scoring. Sitting on one point leads while fans snooze hasn’t been good for anyone.
- Rules that don’t directly affect match outcomes must meet “Marketing Requirements” that advance the sport. An example . . . Hollywood doesn’t save a movie, it markets a movie. We have to stop using the word “save” when we talk about wrestling. I know the word motivates the wrestling community but it strangles the sport in the eyes non-wrestling public. No one wants to be around a loser.
- Create a Global Diplomacy Program and promote it like its life depends on it; which it does. With the world being a dangerous place to live, countries that are the most volatile and disliked, all excel in wrestling. Make it impossible for the IOC to touch wrestling again by rebranding who we are; we’re the United Nations of Sport, we bring the world together through wrestling.
- Don’t hire wrestlers in executive positions. The challenge we face is wrestling has too much baggage. It’s been doing so many things wrong for so many years that anyone who comes from the sport already carries a pre-conditioned mindset that’s primed for failure. Instead, the sport needs individuals who aren’t encumbered by what has been, but rather what could be. Wrestling needs successful businessmen and if they came with law degrees and MBA’s from prestigious institutions that wouldn’t hurt either. The point I’m trying to make is David Stern stands 5’ 6” and never played basketball, Gary Bettman, the Commissioner of the National Hockey League never skated but during his tenure took the leagues revenues from $400 million to over $3 billion. Bud Selig never played organized baseball. Roger Goodell only played football in high school. These are the types of leaders wrestling needs.
- Professional athletes, in any sport, don’t have a say relative to the rules or the operations of the league. Neither should our wrestlers play a part in the decision making process. I like having an athlete board of advisers but advising is where it should stop. There’s a reason why 97% of the Fortune 500 CEO’s are over the age of 40 and 92% are over 50 – with age comes wisdom.
What’s on the menu for next week?
Rules that international wrestling needs to adopt, where are the women on this, and FILA’s second largest gaffe.
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