Getting a grip.
Good participation numbers at the mid-February Renfrew Rumble was evidence that Renfrew-area wrestling is alive and well at the grassroots.
Sherry Haaima, Metroland Media Group
The International Wrestling Federation (FILA) has been brought to its knees, but it is looking for a reversal of enormous proportions.
Following the International Olympic Committee’s recent recommendation to exclude wrestling as one of the 2020 Olympics’ core sports, there has been a worldwide groundswell of grass-roots outcry.
This has included support for wrestling’s Olympic inclusion by such strong wrestling communities as Renfrew.
The IOC recommendation could be accepted at the IOC’s September 2013 session in Buenos Aires. If so, wrestling and seven other sports, including baseball, karate and wakeboarding, would be faced with vying for one berth as the additional sport at the 2020 Olympics.
Twenty-five other sports have been recommended as the 2020 Olympics core sports, including track and field, fencing, field hockey, team handball, badminton, basketball and table tennis.
Either way, wrestling faces the challenge of changing the IOC’s mind when it states its case before the IOC executive board in May 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Either way, communities in love with wrestling, like Renfrew, plan to have their say.
“I do know there’s some positive movement happening,” says Clint Kingsbury, the domestic development manager of Wrestling Canada (still known in its constitution as the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association).
Kingsbury, who’s well aware of wrestling’s popularity in Renfrew, says the town’s wrestling community is doing exactly what it should be doing — talking up the sport on social media to remind others than that their wrestling is near and dear to their hearts, and has been for several years.
Part of the Renfrew Amateur Wrestling Club’s plan is to send Renfrew Mercury photo of nearly 200 wrestlers, officials and other wrestling supporters, from this month’s Renfrew Rumble tournament, to the International Olympic Committee.
Grant Lavallee, a local wrestling coach and former international competitor, says the photo will be accompanied by a letter in support of continuing wrestling’s Olympic membership.
The pronounced activity on Facebook, and other social media, by Renfrew and other wrestling communities is encouraged, says Kingsbury, a former national team wrestler who lives in the southwestern Ontario town of St. Thomas.
“It’s definitely not a done deal,” said Kingsbury, who at the same time says FILA has received a major wake-up call. He says this is partly because FILA has not had commissions in place to deal with legal, medical and gender issues.
Meanwhile, Kingsbury says the sport needs to “come together worldwide to support the sport, trust our leadership and keep doing what we’re doing (to protest), including activity on social media. That’s what people are doing worldwide.”
One of Renfrew’s most veteran supporters of wrestling is Norm Bujold who is a two-time world junior championship competitor, the first president of the Renfrew Amateur Wrestling Club, and member of the club’s board of directors for more than 20 years.
Bujold, who moved to Renfrew as a youngster in 1968, soon became a fixture on the wrestling scene.
“I didn’t know the difference between WWF and amateur wrestling,” recalled Bujold, who quickly moved up the ranks and emerged as a junior and senior national champion.
“The sport did a lot for my self-esteem and taught me about focusing.”
The recent IOC recommendation, added Bujold, “blew me away because I know wrestling has been represented at the Olympics by 101 countries, and 57 different countries have won wrestling medals at the Olympics.”
Just the very fact so many more kids have the opportunity to develop in a sport such as wrestling, where all you basically need is a pair of shorts and sneakers, speaks volumes for keeping Olympic dreams alive for youngsters and coaches and parents around the world, says Bujold.
“To remove this sport devastates the younger generation of wrestlers who dream to someday represent their country at this most prestigious event,” added Bujold
“What is this world and Olympics coming to when it places potential earning over the dreams of our youth.”
In response to the IOC recommendation, last week the International Wrestling Federation website carried a repentant statement on its front page that began: “FILA takes its responsibility very seriously on behalf of all the 180 affiliated national federations and all the wrestlers in the world. We understand the IOC recommendation and respect the process. As a sport, we are willing to undertake all the necessary steps for our sport to remain on the core program of the Olympic Games.
“The world of wrestling is understandably disappointed by the IOC executive board’s recommendation to remove wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games program. We see this as an opportunity which could be a positive turning point for our sport. One thing is for certain: it is our responsibility alone to address the issues that led to this situation.
“We are listening to the IOC’s concerns and learning from their guidance. We must strive to improve our sport’s Olympic offering in order to retain our position on the Olympic program and evolve with the times.”
In reference to Raphaël Martinetti’s resignation, FILA finished its statement by thanking the former FILA president “for his huge contribution and his lifelong service to the sport.”
Following the early-February recommendation, FILA says Martinetti convened a group of eastern delegates at its Feb. 15-16 bureau meeting in Phuket, Thailand, where the delegates blamed the president for the eviction of wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games list of core sports.
According to FILA, Martinetti asked for the bureau’s support to save wrestling in the coming months, but received only 50 per cent of the votes.
FILA also reports that Martinetti did not use his own vote to save his position, and announced his resignation.