(ATR) Who is Rafael Martinetti?
President Rafael Martinetti. (FILA)
The president of FILA, the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, is not one of the better-known IF leaders. And that may be part of the reason the IOC put the sport on the chopping block for the 2020 Olympic program.
Nothing against Martinetti personally. The Swiss businessman has led FILA into the era of women competing in the sport as well as adding beach wrestling and mixed martial arts.
But the fact that his name was not known to some members of the IOC Executive Board when they voted this week to cut wrestling from the program speaks loudly about the need for all Olympic sports to keep their profiles high – or face the IOC’s axe.
Even IOC President Jacques Rogge mispronounced Martinetti's name when he talked about wrestling at a press conference at the end of the EB meeting.
In the final of four rounds of voting by the EB to decide which sport to cut, modern pentathlon escaped while wrestling succumbed.
Perhaps considered one of the likely sports to be cut, modern pentathlon’s energetic and voluble president Klaus Schormann is known to all EB members. One of them – Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. – is a vice president of UIPM, the International Modern Pentathlon Union.
With no athletes from the sport in the IOC, wresting has no apparent allies among its membership.
With such an absence of inside influence, wrestling still behaved as if losing its place on the Olympic program was not a worry. Meanwhile sports thought to be most at risk, taekwondo and modern pentathlon, have constantly promoted themselves to the IOC and the public through the media.
Complacency has its price, as wrestling discovered.
When it became known that wrestling would become the victim of the IOC EB vote, FILA could not be found. Phone calls to the federation headquarters were unanswered, as FILA was apparently unprepared for the onslaught of inquiries the news triggered. A press release expressing shock over the EB decision eventually published online only confirmed FILA’s taciturn view about its place in the Olympics. A request to interview Martinetti was welcomed by FILA, as long as questions could be responded to via email.
Wrestling was on the program of the first Olympics almost 3,000 years ago and has been part of every modern Games since 1904. (Getty Images)
The headquarters for FILA, by the way, is in the Swiss mountain village of Martigny. The town is 70km and a world away from Lausanne where a dozen-plus federations make their home on the doorstep of the IOC.
It’s not over for wrestling, but no sport facing a cut from the program has ever recovered. Baseball and softball, both cut in 2005, are still trying to come back. Those two (in a joint bid) are now competing with six other new sports -- karate, roller sport, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu -- to join the program in 2020.Under the rules of the IOC wrestling now joins those hopefuls. But it has one last chance to preserve its place in the program if it can secure a majority vote at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires, when the 2020 program will be confirmed.
A public outpouring of support for wrestling may help. Tens of thousands of new Facebook followers have flooded the page of USA Wrestling. Indeed, the U.S. is a place that could provide a boost, because wrestling is an important sport at the grassroots level. Still, as with most every other international federation in the Olympics, the U.S. has no leadership position from which to leverage its influence. And when it comes down to popularity in the U.S., arguably baseball and softball might edge wrestling, if a popularity contest made any difference.
Regardless whether it was wrestling or any of the other sports cut, public reaction could be expected from the devotees of the sport. Returning to the example of baseball and softball, the popularity of those sports in Olympic heavyweight nations (such as the U.S., Japan and Korea) failed to make any difference to their fate with the IOC.
Modern pentathlon at London 2012. (Getty Images)
By happy coincidence perhaps, the executive of FILA meets next week in Thailand for a regularly scheduled meeting. The issue of Olympic survival, once an afterthought, now looms as issue #1.
With no public relations machinery in place and an absence of influence on the IOC, FILA is starting from zero in the race to the September vote by the IOC. Some of wrestling’s new rivals such as karate, wakeboarding and squash are far ahead in the race for attention by the IOC, despite an Olympic pedigree for wrestling that dates back 3,000 years.
The first step for FILA might be some face time between Mr. Martinetti and the IOC members who don’t know his name.
Written by Ed Hula
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