The ancient sport of wrestling yesterday agreed a wholesale shake-up of its rules to make the sport more attractive for spectators, in a desperate last throw to stave off the threat of being axed from the Olympic Games from 2020.
The decision of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) executive committee in February to drop wrestling from the 2020 Games devastated the global wrestling community that unites nations from the US to Iran, and raised fears of the gradual death of a sport whose origins go back to the ancient Greeks and Persians.
However, wrestling has a stay of execution and a final chance.
The IOC executive board is scheduled to meet in St Petersburg on May 29 to recommend sports for the 2020 edition to the IOC session, which is to make the final decision in Buenos Aires in September.
“Now is the time to move. We cannot move forward without this plan. Let us start again and keep the dream alive,” International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) president Nenad Lalovic said.
“Like an encounter on the mat, we are going to take advantage of this chance to score,” he added.
The FILA congress met in an extraordinary session in Moscow to agree the changes, with delegates saying their sport had overslept new shifts in global sports and that wrestling risked looking boring and incomprehensible to outsiders.
In a sign of the urgency as the clock ticks down like in the dying seconds of a gold-medal match, the new rules agreed by the FILA bureau will be officially implemented today, just one day after the congress meeting.
The rules changes to both the Olympic wrestling styles — Greco-Roman and Freestyle — aim to make the sport more attractive for TV audiences by favoring spectacular throws and attacking wrestling.
Rather than being played as the best of three two-minute periods, bouts will simply be two times three minutes with cumulative scoring. The wrestler with the most points at the end wins.
A takedown will be rewarded with two points instead of one, while there will be less incentive for wrestlers to push opponents off the mat, urging them instead to try and make plays inside.
A 30-second “shot clock” similar to that employed in basketball will meanwhile be switched on if a wrestler is deemed to be passive, giving him 30 seconds to score or else a point will go to his opponent.
“There is an added incentive compared with the old rules for more dynamic wrestling and spectacular throws,” said FILA vice president and former US wrestling great Stan Dziedzic, who helped mastermind the rule changes.
Wrestling now has the task of arguing the merits of its inclusion in the Olympics at the IOC executive board meeting later this month against potential new Olympic sports with far less historic pedigree, ranging from wushu to wake boarding.
The government of Russia — which has counted on wrestling as a major source of Olympic medals — has been among the leading opponents of the sport’s exclusion and told the congress it held the fate of the sport in its own hands.
“You need to show the ability to respond to the challenges and the threats, and with a united front do everything to prove that wrestling deserves its place in the Olympic family,” Russian Minister of Sports Vitaly Mutko said.
Meanwhile, the congress also approved changes to the FILA constitution and structure to impress the IOC, and confirmed the Serb Lalovic, 55, as president until next year, to replace wrestling’s former strongman Raphael Martinetti, who resigned in the wake of the IOC’s decision.