Photo by: Craig Golding
Wrestling has just a few months to make its case to stay in the Olympics, and it seems FILA, the international committee for wrestling, is using that time to make rules changes to create a more-watchable sport. Jason Bryant of Amateur Wrestling News reports ”(w)ith pressure coming from nearly every national federation, FILA will be submitting proposals for modifications in scoring for Greco-Roman and freestyle prior to the Extraordinary Congress set for Moscow, Russia on May 18.”
The IOC has deemed "watchability" as an important criteria for Olympic sports, and with these changes, FILA is proposing changes that should encourage more action on the mat in both disciplines. There is a determination to reward aggressive wrestlers in both genres in these proposed changes, but especially freestyle. Many of the rule changes harken back to the pre-2005 rule set, before the dreaded "ball grab" debuted and passivity was allowed to creep back into the sport.
The new freestyle rules encourage takedown attempts, even at the edge of the mat. As Bryant states, “(i)f Jordan Burroughs hits a double-leg on someone and they land out of bounds, but Burroughs maintains control, he would be awarded two for the takedown. If he doesn’t have control for the takedown, he would score one point for a pushout. It appears the rationale here is to reward offensive action, and if a 2-point takedown doesn’t occur, the 1-point pushout would still be rewarded points.” No matter the result of an offensive wrestler’s takedown attempt near the line, he’s set up to be rewarded.
With this renewed emphasis on offensive wrestling, the United States may be a prime beneficiary of the rule and philosophy changes. Aside from the takedown clinic that Iran conducted against Team USA (as chronicled by Coach Mike Riordan), the USA is usually known as having wrestlers willing to push the pace of a match, where Southwest Asia (Turkey, Iran, etc.) and Eastern Europe tends to emphasis defensive positioning and counter-attacking. Counter-attacking and defensive strategy now have much less of a potential for pay-off. Wrestlers can no longer simply stall their way to the ball grab, as it has been eradicated under this proposal. And long periods of inactivity will be dealt with harshly. From Bryant:
“The first passivity will be met with an attention. The second passivity call will result in the offending wrestler being “put on the clock.” A 30-second clock will then continue along with the match clock. As our contact on the FILA bureau described it, it’s essentially a shot clock. The wrestler who was hit with the penalty has to score in that 30 seconds or they will get hit with a caution point. If either wrestler scores during that 30 seconds, the points will stand and the “shot clock” will go away. Unlike the previous rules prior to 2004, there is no clinch if a match is scoreless after the first three minutes. Why? There will be a forced passivity call two minutes into a scoreless period. Obviously, if there’s no scoring in that 30 seconds from either wrestler, a caution point.”
The changes proposed include simplifying the rules for back exposure. Basically, if you get turned, it’s 2 points. No more differences in hand-to-hand touches versus elbows or heads. You get turned, and your back is exposed, 2 points for your opponent. Hopefully, it works out as simply as it’s written. 3-point and 5-point throws stay the same.
There are proposed changes in tournament seeding (using world rankings down to 10th seed), spreading weight class competition over two days to highlight semi-final and final matches, and separating returning World medalists into different groups. The final proposed change for freestyle, to team scoring, definitely has an American high school/college flavor to it. Again, from Bryant:
“Under this proposed change, winning by fall would net 2 points, a technical superiority (or technical fall) would net 1.5 points, while a simple victory would net 1 point.
Placement points would be: Gold (15), Silver (12), Bronze (10), Fifth (8) and seventh through 10th place would be scored 5-4-3-2.”
Greco-Roman is addressing passivity also, with a second call resulting in a point and position choice for the opponent. High schools in the USA have used position choice as a penalty for almost a decade in a not-quite-similar manner to deter injury timeouts, which have been abused as "gas stops" for decades. After a high school wrestler has a second injury timeout (derisively called “East Coast timeouts” by Iowa fans for decades), the opposing wrestler is allowed choice of position. Now, that philosophy is being extended internationally to Greco-Roman to encourage offense by deterring passivity. There are also proposed changes to calling step-outs versus push-outs, all in the name of streamlining the calls and encouraging action. It does bring back referee’s decisions in scoreless bouts.
All these changes are in reaction to wrestling’s shocking loss of a guaranteed position in the 2020 Olympic Games, and FILA will be submitting some version of these modifications for scoring before the Extraordinary Congress set for Moscow, Russia on May 18 in hopes it spurs a vote to keep wrestling in the Olympic Games. But as rushed as these proposals may have been in reaction to the IOC executive committee vote earlier this year, they have been a long, long time coming.