Is Gender Equity Wrestling’s Undoing at the Olympics?

By | August 12, 2013

To begin . . . the following paragraph is the IOC’s Mission Statement regarding gender equity relative to events and administrative structures.

“The IOC is committed to gender equity in sport. The Olympics Charter states that one of the roles of the IOC is “to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures, with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women.” Its commitment extends well beyond its efforts to increase women’s participation in the Olympic Games. The IOC also recognizes that gender equality is a critical component of effective sports administration and continues to support the promotion of women and girls in sport at all levels and structures.

So the question becomes, how will the role of women in wrestling play into the IOC decision this September? Here are my thoughts:

If FILA and USAWrestling aren’t capable of seeing our gender equity issues regarding our Olympic challenge then both leaderships, home and abroad are way out of touch. I’m aware that some of us come from the subspecies genus wrestling erectus but come on guys.

We should never forget we live in the 21st century where many of those who sit and vote at the IOC table and those who carry big sticks in America’s athletic world want to see equality in athletics; both in the locker room and in leadership roles.

Now I realize that the IOC won’t vote us in or out based solely on our gender equity numbers but to think we only need to meet bare minimums is yet another way to offend those who will decide our fate.

Come this September Baseball is on the same ticket with Softball so they’re advancing a 50/50 male to female proposition regarding the ratio of athletes and administrators. Squash’s bid mirrors the same gender equal percentages. Even Judo, Taekwondo and Weight Lifting, who at one time were male dominated sports, have equal numbers of men to women. This might be a good time to mention that both baseball and softball were previously cut from the Olympics when each was a single sex sport. Now married, they’re gender compliant and a major contender.

Enter FILA with their “we’ll do what we want” boldness and USAWrestling’s typical, and ongoing “yes you’re right” genuflecting approach to Lucerne politics.

Currently the men have 14 weight classes in two styles to the women’s 4 weight classes in one style.  This may meet the IOC’s minimum ratio of women to men in a male dominated sport, but anywhere else, especially in America, it fails the smell test not to mention all logic. Why doesn’t FILA step up and demonstrate to the world (by their actions) that they’re more than a group of men only interested in providing modicums when gender equity is involved?

Now I understand that President Nenad Lalovic (who seems to be the right guy at the right time) and the FILA Board has changed their constitution to include a women as one of their four Vice Presidents. But that was months ago and as of this writing their website indicates there are zero inner circle leadership positions held by women. To see for yourself, go to and click on “Bureau Members”. Here is what you’ll find:

1 President – a male

4 Vice Presidents – all males

1 General Secretary – a male

4 Continental Presidents – all males

If it’s an issue of waiting until one of the men’s term of office is up before inserting a women, that’s myopic, stupid and imprudent. Does anyone think that the IOC will take a promissory note from FILA when they vote in September given their history?

Why wouldn’t FILA just create a temporary 5th Vice President position and fill it now? Then eliminate it after one of the male’s terms expires. Problem solved, proactivity demonstrated. The IOC is watching guys and they have a knife to your private parts and you’re acting as if you have all the time in the world. No wonder we’re on the outside looking in and your voice is about to change.

On the home front women don’t fare any better. USAWrestling has never, and that’s never with a capital N, let a women become President, Vice President, Second Vice President, Secretary Treasurer, Chair of State Chairs or even Chair of Women’s Sport for their organization. That’s just shameful.

Maybe the answer is the two organizations should create a new structure with parallel leadership groups; a women’s President, a men’s President and so on down the governance chain with or without a Chairman of Wrestling (either sex) overseeing the two groups. This isn’t tough to do unless the men truly feel the sport belongs to them; which based on the numbers is how the IOC views them.

In this regard or any other, how can FILA and USAWrestling’s two Board members to FILA call themselves leaders? Step up guys, we have a better than 50% chance of getting our butts kicked in September if genus wrestling erectus doesn’t come to the table with hat in hand and proof of significant change rather than a basket of promises.

As to the athletes themselves, the IOC has said they aren’t going to allow us, or any other sport to expand their medal count. This means if we’re going to level the competitive playing field the guys are going to be forced to consider giving up two weight classes to the ladies, one from freestyle and one from Greco. That would create an equal 6-6-6 distribution between the three disciplines and as painful as that would be, our Olympic future might very well rest on it.

But unfortunately this is yet another change that FILA and USAWrestling have been talking about doing but have decided nothing.

As a suggestion, why not offer 8 to 10 weight classes in each division for the in-between years and start a woman’s Greco program? Wouldn’t that be an outstanding solution to a difficult challenge? Other than at the Olympics, FILA and USAWrestling completely control the number disciplines and weight classes they offer. Why not expand opportunities; isn’t that their charge as overseer of wrestling? Stepping up in such a way:

1) Minimizes the sting of redistribution for the males

2) Creates gender equality across the board

3) Demonstrates that both FILA and USAWrestling is capable of not only seeing rainbows behind storm clouds but actually exhibiting leadership

4) Would have to increase media interest and fan support; two of the four largest issues the IOC has with wrestling

The only downside I see is the anxiety that would take place every 4 years when weight classes would be jammed with multiple World Medalists vying for reduced opportunities to become an Olympian.

Another might be the two leadership groups questioning the expense of such a change; suggesting that type of expansion would be too expensive. To that the proper response is bunk! Send less administrators to international events, golf less, drink $15.00 bottles of wine instead of the 3 figure kind. It’s time leadership considers what’s best for the athletes. And I would remind them of the millions they’ve spent in the last 7 months trying to undo what they themselves caused; money they also said they didn’t have.

Not Good

To add insult to injury, the man FILA threw under the bus to appease the IOC, ex-President Raphael Martinetti, is still a Board Member with the same voting privileges, and clout, as the current President. Am I the only one who sees this as a problem when wrestling asks the IOC to reinstate our sport? How exactly have FILA or USAWrestling changed to warrant reinstatement?  Yes they altered some rules, but they are only secondary reasons for our dismissal.

Wrestling wasn’t thrown out of the Olympics; the IOC threw our leadership out.  This was a vote of no confidence for the men of FILA and to a lesser extent USAWrestling. Don’t be misled; our leaders want you to believe this was an attack on wrestling, for obvious reasons.

Now if you ask our national governing body they’ll say they can’t do anything relative to FILA. To that I’m calling bullshit. That’s zero leadership and even less backbone. FILA wants back in the Games, we want back in the Games. Wrestling deserves to be in the Games. USAWrestling knows what it’s going to take but seems content to sit back and let status quo rule.

Let me ask you; does it appear to anyone that the IOC should say all is forgiven? Do you think the IOC wants to deal with the same leadership they had a problem with for another Olympic cycle? Granted, they may be forced to whether they like it or not given the global outcry and Russia’s President Putin’s involvement but it won’t be due to our leadership’s vision of things.

Attendance in Stillwater for the World Trials

Recently, some have tried to defend USAWrestling’s marketing campaign for the World Team Trials. Sorry guys, it’s indefensible. To have more seats empty than being kept warm for the greatest match up (Dake vs. Burroughs) in America’s wrestling history is a travesty. If Texas can draw 50,000 people for the 2000 Olympic Team Trials in a state that isn’t known for wrestling, what’s the deal in Oklahoma?

The difference is as obvious as it is glaring; Oklahoma was handled by USAWrestling and in Texas they had a team of private individuals who put together and executed a brilliant marketing strategy. You’d think Colorado Springs would be smart enough to watch others when they succeed and be humble enough to duplicate achievement. But then again, it is USAWrestling.

The next installment of will focus on what we might consider to advance folkstyle wrestling in America. That will be a great read for some while others will roll their eyes as change is just that; change. But as a tenet of my writing, you will seldom if ever read anything I have a problem with without the following paragraph providing a suggestion of how things might be improved.

10 thoughts on “Is Gender Equity Wrestling’s Undoing at the Olympics?

  1. Dan

    It seems obvious to me that sports that replicate physical combat, like boxing and wrestling, are not going to have statistical equality in participation, even if you gave away free pink shoes. Why should we humans force an inequality of nature and call it equal? Yes, women like to wrestle, are growing, and deserve a place in the Olympics. I just disagree that men should be reduced to 6:6, when their competitive numbers and feeder lifespans outweigh the female counterpart by what? 400,000 to 1000, 400 to1? I’m guessing. And that is just in America. I prefer 9 and 3 based upon statistics, not a political correct, gender equality power play.

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  4. Clay McEldowney

    Relinquishing weight classes for the men does nothing for women’s
    participation, and reducing men’s weight classes down to now only 6
    incrementally from 10 and then to 7 vastly reduces opportunities for
    elite level male wrestlers. Equating the numbers for men and women at
    6 mirrors what is happening with Title IX, where the enforcers of the
    law equate equal outcomes to equal opportunity. The fact is that not
    nearly as many women compete in wrestling as men, and it is grossly
    unfair to limit men’s participation so that the numbers are equal. I
    agree that the focus now is to keep wrestling in the Olympics, but the
    USOC and FILA should NEVER give up on restoring opportunities to male
    wrestlers by bringing the number of weight classes back to 10 once the
    first battle has been won.

    1. Wade Schalles

      Clay . . . I so respect what you have done for the sport, thank you. And you are spot on here and I guess this is where the “however” comes into play. Yes, love to see 10 weight classes across the board for both sexes but given the rules that the IOC has placed on ALL sports, that isn’t going to happen. But remember that is ONLY for the Olympics, not the World Championships or any other event. Having multiple weight classes in American for the younger athletes has worked. Why not expand that to include all global events (except those controlled by the IOC) at the senior level? The IOC shouldn’t wag our tail on this issue and we need to make the best of what’s possible. FILA has a choice, but my guess is they haven’t thought about it before probably due to being too far in among the trees to the point where they can’t see the forest.

      Regarding numbers, just because there are say 8 female wrestlers in the US per weight class that could compete at the world level versus 75 per weight class for the men, that shouldn’t mean the women deserve less weight classes.

      We all should remember how bad the women were as wrestlers in the 80’s when they got started to where they are today. Given the chance, women compete. As a parallel, in the 50’s there were only 4 to 8 men per weight class at the NCAA championships. History suggests if you provide competitors opportunities, good things happen regardless of biological differences.

  5. David Pacheco

    Although most of this makes sense, there are far too many other sports that have not gender balance on the other side. Two that come to mind…rhythmic gymnastics and synchonized swimming. they have no male counterparts, yet are still in the olympics…and probably have very little following on tv. I know no one that watches those. So if gender is so important, why are those two kept on the table? Yes, we need to be more proactive, but make sure the landscape we are competing in is the same sport wide when it comes to the gender part of it.

    1. Wade Schalles

      There are QUITE a few things FILA has done and hasn’t done that got us to where we are. Some of them 60 Minutes would have fun exploring. You’re right, gender equity won’t be the straw that breaks the camels back but right now, can we afford to overlook anything that might make a difference? As for the women, they’ve paid their dues. To be overlooked as badly as they are, especially in leadership roles makes USAWrestling look rather pathetic. They even have (although well qualified) a male coaching the women. It just looks bad.

      1. Wade Schalles

        PS David . . . synchronized swimming is part of swimming, not a stand alone sport so it does have a male counterpart just at rhythmic gymnastics is part of gymnastics with a 9/9 event distribution of men to women.

    2. Jack Clark

      I think it’s only two sports that don’t have gender balance – boxing and wrestling. The IOC breaks it down by number of events per sport. Here’s the count of men and women’s events within each sport classification. Wrestling and boxing are the two that don’t even look like they are trying. Not sure why women don’t compete in Canoe though.

      Even the other combat sports are even. More than anything we need to be proactive – growing our sport – instead of whatever we’ve been doing for the last 50 years.

      Athletics – 24 men / 23 women
      Rowing – 8 / 6
      Badminton 2 / 2
      Basketball 1 / 1
      Boxing 10 / 3
      Canoe-Kayak – 11 / 5
      Cycling – 9 / 9
      Equestrian – combined team events
      Fencing – 5 / 5
      Football (soccer) 1 / 1
      Gymnastics – 9 / 9 – men have pommel horse and parallel bars and women have rhythmic gymnastics to even out the numbers
      Weightlifting – 8 / 7
      Handball – 1 / 1
      Hockey – 1 / 1
      Judo – 7 / 7
      Wrestling – 14 / 4
      Swimming – 22 / 24
      Pentathalon – 1 / 1
      Taekwondo – 4 / 4
      Tennis – 2 / 2
      Table Tennis – 2 / 2
      Shooting – 9 / 6
      Archery – 2 / 2
      Triathalon – 1 / 1
      Sailing – 6 / 4
      Volleyball – 2 / 2


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