Olympic Wrestling – The Second Coming


Amateur or Olympic wrestling has been given the second bite of the cherry at the Summer Olympic Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Olympic Wrestling had been taken off the Summer Olympic Games programme for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, the sport fought off the challenges of squash as well as the combined effort of baseball and softball to retain its status as an Olympic sport. 

Every sports enthusiast would be tempted to ask why a sport code such as wrestling found itself struggling and fighting for global relevance in terms of its status as an Olympic sport.

The answer is simple maladministration and complacence.Wrestling as a combat sport has always been extremely popular all over the world, competing favourably with boxing.   It is a sport, which is steeped in the great traditions and folklore of various civilisations of the world. Graeco-Roman wrestling is one of the original sports of the Ancient Olympic Games. 

In addition and more importantly, is the fact that even in Africa,  various forms of traditional wrestling existed prior to the colonial era and which still continue in most parts of Africa. 

Now how did the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) get it all wrong leaving the sport in moribund state? The international sport arena is a dynamic environment, which is indeed a dog-eat-dog society. You snooze, you lose! Every sport must employ all the necessary marketing and promotional strategies to remain popular and more importantly to generate revenue through television and sponsorship deals. 

That is why most international sport organisations are resorting to engagement of marketing public relations consultancies to contribute to the growth of their sport codes. Nowadays sponsors look at how much exposure and mileage they can get from being associated with a certain sport code. 

If the answer is zero, forget about sponsorship. Wrestling has now been given a wake-up call.   It is time for the sport to re-double its efforts to increase its popularity among people regardless of age, gender, and physical ability, socio-economic, geographic, or political background.

If wrestling does not heed this warning from the international sporting community, it will soon find itself struggling again to maintain its status as an Olympic sport. Other sports codes such as baseball /softball, cricket and squash are not going to simply roll over and play dead. 

They are going to intensify their fight for global recognition, with a view to topple other sport codes from the Olympic Games programme. Now, the onus is also upon the IOC to clearly define what constitutes an “Olympic” sport and what organisations need to do to ensure that their sport is given due recognition. There is need for objective criteria, which, if not met, might cause a sport code to tumble down in status.

Observers have noted that wrestling is indeed a unique sport.  It is one activity that unites the passions of the Americans, Russians and Iranians.  These are nations, which in most cases are always arguing and fighting almost about everything else in life. However, when wrestling was removed from the Summer Olympic Games programme, the erstwhile adversaries came out fighting literally with all guns blazing for the sport to be re-admitted. 

If FILA was not aware of its global political strength and unifying force, now is the time to utilise it to its fullest potential.  It is up to the head honchos of the sport to take advantage of their privileged status to ensure that the sport is developed into a real global brand.

FIFA and the IAAF are good examples of international sports federations that have no time to relax. They understand that if they relax just for one moment, their so-called “sacred” status, as Olympic Sport codes, will be gone in no time, despite the fact that football and athletics are perhaps the most popular sport codes in the world. Sepp Blatter and Lamine Diack, as presidents of their respective sports organisations are at the forefront of ensuring continued global dominance of their sport codes.

 In most cases, if you would contact a survey of primary school children, you would most probably find out that the kids aspire to play football like Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or David Beckham. Some would like to run as fast as Sebastian Coe, Kip Keino, Frank Fredericks, Haile Gebresellasie, Usain Bolt or Mo Farah. 

 This is what is called global appeal when a sport code produces internationally recognized icons.FILA has been given a rare opportunity to correct its past mistakes and really make efforts to innovate and re-invent the sport of wrestling. 

If FILA does not raise its profile, it might find itself battling again to keep wrestling on the Olympic Games programme for the 2024 and 2028 editions of the Summer Olympic Games. Other sport organisations can also learn from this development and ensure that they continue to do everything possible to polarise their activities throughout the world.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is also very important as organisations such FIFA have shown that their activities and influence extend beyond the football fields, into the corridors of power within governments, classrooms, clinics and health centres.  This is how powerful football has become. The rest of the world must watch and learn. The consequences of not doing so are too ghastly to contemplate!

October 2013
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