Olympic Wrestling’s New Rules Keep the Sport on a Positive Path

FILA President Nenad Lalovic

FILA, the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, Olympic wrestling’s sanctioning body, just released its rule changes for the coming Olympic cycle. Shockingly, the rules largely institute changes which should improve the sport.

I say “shockingly” because, for many years, FILA rule changes signaled a new nadir for the sport as it spiraled inexorably towards its own doom. However, since last year’s shake up, which resulted from Olympic wrestling’s brush with death, FILA and its new president, Nenad Lalovich, have been changing the sport for the better. We should view these new rules, for the most part, as one of these beneficial changes

To better understand how the new rule changes will affect wrestling, and to discuss how future rule changes could lead to even more improvement, we will look at each change one by one. All the quotations contained in this post feature the current changes. All rules not expressly changed by the quoted text below remain in effect.

I. Olympic Weight Categories:
Freestyle Wrestling 57 kg – 65 kg – 74 kg – 86 kg – 97 kg – 125 kg
Greco Roman Wrestling 59 kg – 66 kg – 75 kg – 85 kg – 98 kg – 130 kg
Female Wrestling 48 kg – 53 kg – 58 kg – 63 kg – 69 kg – 75 kg
Entry in force: 1st January 2014

These new categories will be applied at the Senior Continental and World Championships, the Senior
World Cups and the Golden Grand Prix.

Remarks :
– The weight categories for Junior and Cadets are not modified and remain as currently.

We knew before these changes came out that men’s freestyle and Greco would lose a weight each, while women’s freestyle would gain two weights. I do not believe this tragic sacrifice ought to have been made, and it breaks my heart. The allocation of six weights to all three styles hurts both men and women– men now have less opportunity to make Olympic wrestling teams, and the number of female weights now find themselves effectively tethered to the dwindling number of men’s weights. I had hoped that the International Olympic Committee would allow for the gradual addition of new women’s freestyle weights to bring them into equality with the number of men’s freestyle weights. Instead, the number of possible weights have merely been redistributed.

FILA  did make the right decision in not altering the number of weights in the Cadet (Under 18) and Junior (Under 20) age groups.

II. Olympic and non-Olympic Weight Categories for the FILA World and Continental championships:

Two non-Olympic categories per style have been added and will be used in all official FILA competitions
(world and continental championships, world cups, golden grand prix):

Freestyle Wrestling 57 kg – 61 kg – 65 kg – 70 kg – 74 kg – 86 kg – 97 kg – 125 kg
Greco Roman Wrestling 59 kg – 66 kg – 71 kg – 75 kg – 80 kg – 85 kg – 98 kg – 130 kg
Female Wrestling 48 kg – 53 kg – 55 kg – 58 kg – 60 kg – 63 kg – 69 kg – 75 kg

When I saw this new rule, you could have pushed me over with a feather. I have never seen FILA demonstrate such a connection with the needs of the sport. Yes, I hate the fact that we lost Olympic weights, but the addition of three more weights to the programme at World Championships in non-Olympic years goes a decent way towards making up for it.

III. Competition format

– The competitions in each category will still take place over one (1) day until further notice but will start at 10 am for the first session of the day and at 4 pm for the second session.
– A minimum 30 minutes break between each bout must be obligatorily followed.

This change represents a step in the right direction. Since the institution of the one-day tournament, elite international competitions have suffered from serious issues with time compression. Tournaments started too late, and too many matches were held in too short a time. Worse yet, the way things worked out, wrestlers would take to the mat in later rounds with vastly different recovery times than their competition.

These new rules allow for time between sessions for the audience to refresh themselves at the local public house, and to get excited about the coming matches. Unfortunately, they do not go far enough.

The NCAA Division I wrestling championships stand alone as the true gold standard when it comes to well-attended television-friendly amateur wrestling tournaments. At the NCAAs, all weights compete simultaneously in six sessions spread over a three day period. The semifinals, which determine the match ups for the finals, take place at the end of day two, and the finals take place at the end of the third day. This creates a situation where all of the event’s most anticipated matches fall on a Saturday night, with a whole day left before them to ensure proper coverage, allow for decent marketing, and maximize fan anticipation.

If FILA seeks to eventually optimize the product of its World Championships and Olympics, then it needs to eventually abandon the one-day model, and continue to progress into a format which resembles the NCAA championships

IV. Wrestling Rules
Technical superiority
– 10 points for Freestyle Wrestling
– 8 points for Greco-Roman Wrestling

The previous edition of the rules, released last year, constituted a significant move in a positive direction for wrestling, but it also received a good deal of criticism from certain corners of the wrestling world, and probably for good reason. I will be the first to admit that I was among those who cried out against the introduction of the “throw rules” and seven-point technical superiority, both foisted upon the sport without apparent justification.

A technical superiority ends a wrestling match when one wrestler’s points lead reaches a predetermined threshold. The seven-point threshold promulgated in the last edition of the rules caused matches to end too suddenly, and precluded the occurrence of dramatic comebacks, particularly in freestyle.

Once again, it appears that FILA has listened to the wrestling community. The ten-point technical superiority in freestyle is ideal, and I see no issue with an eight-point limit in Greco.

Freestyle Wrestling: 4 points for all throws

Greco-Roman Wrestling:
– 4 points for throws (must be followed and controlled)
– 5 points grand amplitude throws (must be followed and controlled)

End of match
All disciplines: elimination of 2 X 3 points and 1 X 5 points resulting in a victory.

With the introduction of the “throw rules” last year, wrestling misguidedly took a page from Judo’s rule book and instituted a scheme where a competitor could win a match with one five-point (grand amplitude-a throw from feet to back where the throwee’s hips rise above the thrower’s hips) throw, or two three-point throws (throws that take the throwee from feet to back), so long as the thrower had more points than his opponent on the scoreboard.

The throw rules had two negative results. First they worked against the spirit of a sport whose ultimate statement of superiority ought to be the pinning of an opponent’s back to the mat. Second, the sport should seek to simplify itself, and adding two new ways to win a match serves as a unnecessary concession towards extravagance, and extravagance leads to confusion among spectators.

On numerous occasions during the “throw rule” era, matches I watched would end unexpectedly after a three-point move, and it would take me a while to remember that another three pointer had occurred far earlier in the match. Wrestling cannot afford to confuse, and thus alienate, the vitally important casual audience.

Getting rid of the “throw rules”, and making every throw worth four points provides much needed simplicity to the sport. Keeping the five-point throw in Greco muddles matters, but it also keeps the incentive for wrestlers in that style to attempt the throws which can make Greco spectacular.

If “throws” in this context refer to any move which take an opponent feet to back, then this will also mark a definite move in the scoring system in the favor offensive wrestlers. Common 3-2 situations, where a defensive wrestler gets taken down to his back, and then rolls his opponent through for back exposure, will now receive a score of 4-2 for the offensive wrestler. This would strike another blow against boring and purely reactive counter wrestlers.

– 1st warning – the bout is not stopped to give warning
– Match ending 0-0: the last wrestler warned loses. [Based on the wording I can’t be sure if this is only for Greco or not]

All sports with time limits and open scoring, be it football, hockey or basketball, need some measure in place to guard against stalling or time wasting, and wrestling is no exception. Referees in wrestling need the ability to officiate against negative wrestling, but the rules ought to use more precise language to explain what constitutes passivity. If a referee can potentially step in and determine the winner of an Olympic gold medal, we ought to know exactly why they do so.

Challenge Procedures
– The Appeal Jury renders its decision solely in all challenges requested, without consulting the refereeing body.
– If the Appeal Jury overturns the decision of the refereeing body, the members who rendered the incorrect score will be warned. A second warning will result in the suspension for the remained of the competition and the referees will be relegated. The decision of Appeal Jury is final (no appeal)

I figured now that FILA’s referees will run themselves within an independent commission, wrestling would move to a model which used fewer officials. However, if FILA will continue to use a referee, two judges and a review jury for every match, then the jury should have final say over matter, and poor refereeing should face penalties.

V. Repechage
It has been voted that the repechage are extended to include the losers to the semifinalists instead of the finalists. In order to prevent that two wrestlers meet twice, the losers of the semifinals will compete against the winner of the repechage from the other bracket.

I eagerly anticipate the day when FILA World Championships and Olympics feature one bronze medal as well as matches for fifth and seventh places. Here, FILA moves towards a more robust and meaningful repechage by extending a chance to wrestle for one of two bronze medals to any wrestler who loses to a semifinalist. This marks yet another pleasantly surprising rule change, and perhaps a stop along the path to creating an ideal tournament format.

Finally, in these new rules, different measures for determining the winner of a tied match remain conspicuously absent. Americans seem to want some sort of overtime put into place, instead, the criteria system (highest scoring move, last to score etc.) will remain the law of the land.

I understand the looming possibility of overtime can cause wrestlers to play it safe with a tied score near the end of regulation time, but I also think the excitement and spectacle of sudden-death wrestling outweighs this consideration. Also, tied scores should indicate that the match has not been won by either wrestler, and should demand that the winner be determined by additional wrestling. I have heard the proposal that a final tiebreaker take place within a much smaller out-of-bounds circle, thus ensuring a quick score and end to the match. This solution appears elegant, innovative and effective.

Final Analysis

Yes, I believe that Olympic wrestling could benefit from reforms that go beyond those created by this iteration of the rules. That said, if one were to plot this, and the previous two versions of the wrestling rules, as points on some sort of imaginary two-axis graph, and then draw a line through them, the line would have a definite positive slope.

I cannot be certain of the last time we have seen such a trend in wrestling, and I am certain many different people share responsibility for the positive developments in the sport. Ultimately, however, the lion’s share of responsibility rests on the shoulders of President Lalovic. After all, were things headed in the wrong direction, he would suffer the vast majority of blame.

Lalovic now finds himself in a unique position. History will likely remember him as the man who saved wrestling, but I sincerely hope that it also looks back at him and sees the man who brought wrestling to new heights of prominence.

Plenty of work remains, and I am keeping my fingers crossed.

By Mike Riordan

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