As of this weekend, three of these continental championships have come and gone, the three most important, and I'm willing to bet that most of you didn't even realize it. The European Championships came and went some time ago. When and where exactly? I'm not entirely certain. I tried to look it up for the purpose of this article, when I went to the FILA homepage and clicked the freestyle drop menu at the top and selected "results" I found that this section was not updated with the European Championship results. The European Championship is arguably the second most important annual wrestling tournament in the world, and FILA, the sport's own international sanctioning body, has not provided results for it in its dedicated results section. I'm sure that somewhere on the site I could find results, but why should I have to dig through various reverse chronological updates and suffer the site's shoddy abysmal information architecture in order to procure results which ought to be readily available.
Alarmingly, the last result recorded in this "results" section is the "Senior World Championship" in "Theran" on Feb. 21 and 22. Because I am a knowledgeable wrestling fan, I know that they really must mean the Senior World Cup in Tehran. Forgiving the misspelling of an important world capital, I am still very much taken aback by the fact that whoever enters this data does not understand the distinction between wrestling's World Cup and its World Championship. This is not a trivial difference. One is an individual tournament and one is a dual meet tournament. Forgive me if I can't shake the perception that large swaths of those in the employ of FILA have no real understanding of the sports they are meant to promote and protect.
The crappiness of the design FILA website's design and maintenance is not just a nuisance to fans, traffic to the sanctioning body's website was also a criterion used by the IOC board to determine which sport they recommended for elimination from the Olympic core program in February. In manner of speaking, in February the IOC board told FILA that it was throwing its sport into the dustbin, in part, because of a lousy homepage. Wouldn't you think that some sort of meaningful overhaul of this webpage would have occurred by the third week of April?
Let's return to the discussion of the continental championships. A few months ago an acquaintance sent me a link to a YouTube hosted webcast, provided by judo's international sanctioning body, of an important judo tournament held in Paris. Watching this, I knew that wrestling was in deep trouble. The video streamed in high quality, and was accompanied by impressive production elements. Scores and results were displayed on the screen with modern looking graphics, action was accompanied by competent commentators, the broadcast used multiple cameras, everything was in English and it cost me nothing to watch it. What really made my jaw drop was the crowd. A decent sized arena was filled to the brim with enthusiastic fans. I compared this to the webcast I watched when the finals of the World Wrestling Championships held in Denmark in 2009. On that stream, I remember the complete lack of commentary, the absence of production elements, the solitary immobile camera and the depressingly meager crowd. That was four years ago, things should be different now, but they are not.
The Pan Am Championships in Panama of a couple weeks ago and the Asian Championships in New Delhi of this past weekend should have featured a high quality webcast much like the judo tournament listed above. What better way to expose wrestling in an area where it really shines-providing meaningful chances of competitive success to often neglected portions of the developing world. Unfortunately they didn't even get the Denmark treatment. In this era of information super highways and inexpensive live streaming technology, the only way to watch these two tournaments, marquee FILA events, was by seeing them in person. These tournaments may well have been wonderful displays of wrestling, a cornerstone of the world's athletic cultural heritage, at its very best, but the fifteen members of the IOC's executive board wouldn't know because they weren't there. This is the same fifteen people who may disdainfully drop wrestling into the bottomless pit of irrelevancy next month.
Looking at the participants in the Asian Games, it's clear that FILA has not done a good job of incentivizing countries to send their very best wrestlers. Close to a third of freestyle wrestling medal winners in the 2012 Olympics came from countries represented at the Asian Championships. Not a single one of these medalists were in competition this past weekend. Only one wrestler who even placed in the top five in London wrestled in the Asian Championship. Thanks, Daulet Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan!
This problem of attendance could be cured if FILA introduced some sort of world ranking system which affected seeding at World Championships and results in the continental championships impacted these rankings. As it stands right now, FILA provides no world rankings, and there is no way to ascertain what weight FILA places on its sponsored tournaments relative to others. FILA must have some sort of weighting criteria, as it does name a "Wrestler of the Year" annually. It appears that FILA's determination of this "Wrestler of the Year" is based on performance at the worlds/Olympics, the European Championships (apparently to be a FILA Wrestler of the Year you must be from Europe, or Azerbaijan, which competes in the European championships), and a "Golden Grand Prix." I'm pretty smart and know more than most about international wrestling, but the whole "Golden Grand Prix" thing remains utterly opaque to me.
Coming soon to Chad-FILA's African Championships, a cool event where practitioners of myriad African folkstyles try to adapt their unique skills to freestyle and Greco. I'd love to be able to watch it, but I surely won't. Maybe by the time the leaves change, FILA will properly list the results.