Russia wrestling crisis: Free grades offer to US students

Image copyright Tecnica/WW), image by Cosmia

Russian wrestling student Aleksander Massoeylov is offering free grades to his friends who enjoy mixed martial arts.

He hopes the offer will encourage more Russian students to take up boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA).

Meanwhile, Oxford University student Sage Cowan has formed a team of young wrestlers to use the college canteen as part of their training.

Some Russian businesses are warning that the Rugby Football Union and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) might refuse to allow Russia to send its athletes to the 2020 Olympics if they are involved in illegal fighting.

Image copyright Miama Design / alamy stock photo Image caption Aleksander Massoeylov has offered free grades to his friends who enjoy mixed martial arts (MMA)

The problem stems from international wrestling rules which make it impossible for wrestlers to use their hands during fights.

The clampdown on wrestling stems from concerns that any moves with the hands could be used as weapons in the ring.

“If the rules are not changed it will affect Russian professional wrestlers,” said Aleksander, a 14-year-old who wrestles for Russia’s under-18 team.

“We are not doing any harm – we are only trying to gain popularity, we are trying to get more support. We want to hold a conference and ask the wrestling federations why they are not changing the rules.”

His training with wrestling is not limited to wrestling matches, he said.

“I work with my coach to pick up my upper body, I work on all my moves – like putting my knee on someone’s head when we are fighting in the ring,” he told BBC Sport.

But concerns over how much Russian wrestlers are willing to risk if they take part in the Olympics has already affected their preparations.

One British student training at the University of Westminster in London, who was not willing to be named, said it was a bigger problem in Russia than in the UK.

“We are here because our young men are suffering from over competitiveness and are not getting any backing from their families,” he said.

His school was willing to cover the costs but the club is tiny compared to Moscow’s larger wrestling clubs, he said.

“Training for Olympic Games is absolutely the best thing they can do for young athletes,” he added.

The Russian wrestling team is the only domestic team to qualified for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Whichever country qualifies, Russia will have mixed weight teams – a repeat of the way wrestling began in ancient Greece.

The World Wrestling Federation has criticised some wrestling federations for trying to crack down on illegal activity.

In April the Federation said Olympic athletes in Japan had formed a group which was against what it described as “tightly-controlled wrestling”.

The US Weightlifting Federation has also criticised the wrestling rules as preventing its athletes from representing their country.

In response, WTW – which is operated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – says it doesn’t condone illegal fighting.

It has already refused to recognise International Wrestling Federation titles, which was resulting in the loss of league title.

“WWE has worked extensively with the various wrestling federations to ensure that there is recognition of matches regardless of the on-going dispute in a number of countries,” said the organisation’s spokesman.

“Furthermore, international match officials are being selected to be included in the international meeting of all weight-lifting federations and the competition at the 2020 Olympic Games.”

The Wrestling Federation of Russia could not be reached for comment.

One of the Russian young wrestlers Sage Cowan, who has set up his own mixed martial arts club and is being coached by Sean Miller. Image caption

Commenting on the situation Sage said that all he was doing was trying to get the union to change the rules.

“I’m planning on going to the Olympic Games and I can’t wrestle under the current rules. It is not fair, I can’t go and say ‘I’m going to the Olympics and I’m going to wrestle’ because I can’t,” he said.

“I’m going to the Olympics as a maverick and just doing what I want to do. I’m not using any violence in my sport. That is why I am doing this.”

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