From allegations of mismanagement, complacency and the threat of elimination from the Olympic Games, wrestling has transformed into the rapidly growing and rising sport globally. All made possible by the able leadership of the United World Wrestling president Nenad Lalovic.
But for the governance and vision of Lalovic, wrestling would have well been excluded from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
When Lalovic stepped into the hot seat of the UWW (then FILA – Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées) president in 2013, the International Olympic Committee has been seriously considering to omit wrestling from the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Today, it is one of the most prominent disciplines the world will be looking up to during the July 24 to August 9 Games.
The sport in a span of seven years has emerged from the brink of Olympics elimination to grow in stature and representation across genders. “A solid foundation has positioned wrestling for growth,” in the UWW president’s own words.
The engineer, entrepreneur-turned sports administrator has shared his initiative and vision for the sport in an interview with the news agency Associated Press.
The complacency and lack of initiative and accountability was bound to mar the system of the governing body that had seen only six president’s over a span of 90 years with one of them exceeding 30 years in the office and at least two being in the chair for two decades.
Then came Lalovic in 2013 amidst all turbulence for wrestling to leave a “huge impact on the sport” to make it a “very good part of the Olympic movement”, by his own admission. He took the task of reviving and modernising an ancient sports. More 0pportunities for women on and off the mat; embracing technology and promoting the achievers are the key factors in the Lalovic methodology for wrestling’s overall development.
Ending the abject apathy of decades towards athletes and officials, Lalovic enforced a 360° transformation with the 2015 Las Vegas World Championships. According to US daily Washington Post, the UWW boss made it possible with the help of better techonology, including broadcast and in-stadia visual presentations; enhanced training and medical facilities for athletes, including nutritious food and better transportation.
The world governing body while working for the wellbeing and development of wrestlers, also worked on enhancing on increasing the fan base and taking the sport to newer territories with better broadcast exposure.
Growth we see today is a by-product of a well synchronised, highly competitive system. Working in isolation on any sphere of the sport or administration was not going to work. The UWW president had understood the core concern and addressed it thoroughly.
A leisurely sports administration set up once ridiculed for its inefficiency was transformed into the complete professional unit with skilled professionals spearheading television broadcast, development and commercial divisions.
Global growth of women’s wrestling has assured that the discipline will be among the top attractions at the Olympics this year with the hosts Japan being a superpower themselves, having bagged 11 of the 18 gold medals in the last three Olympics. India, after having opened their medal account in women’s competition at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games with Sakshi Malik’s bronze, looks poised to better the number and the colour of the medallion. Vinesh Phogat is spearheading the hopes.
“When you speak about women’s wrestling, it is not less spectacular than men’s wrestling,” Washington Post has quoted Lalovic as saying. “We have more countries coming in with women’s wrestling like China, Mongolia, India. In the beginning, the most successful were Scandinavian countries. Since then, Japan has invested a lot in that style and the result is visible, of course.”
Only good products succeed commercially. The value addition came with technology-driven conduct of global events. Transparency and neutral officiating emerged as significant aspects to lessen the conflicts and add to the popularity of the sport. Computerised draws and allocations of officials shortly before the bouts have almost eliminated any conflicts of interest. “We really try to provide the best conditions for our athletes in order to fight and have impartial decisions by the referees,” Lalovic said. “There are very small details that can decide the outcome, and this is why we installed that.”
Under Lalovic’s leadership, UWW has also been working on educating wrestlers and succeeded in bringing down the doping cases in the sport. Increased television coverage and video streaming has led to more exposure to the athletes, while also increasing the sport’s fan base.
Washington Post has also acknowledged the role of the partnership between New Delhi-based sports business company Sporty Solutionz and the United World Wrestling in the growth of wrestling in the region. Sporty Solutionz is UWW’s exclusive media rights partner for the territory of Indian sub-continent. The company is also the exclusive commercial partner of the Wrestling Federation of India and has been instrumental in generating sponsorships, revenue streams and training support for Indian wrestlers. Sporty Solutionz has also facilitated the game-changing WFI-Tata Motors Commercial Vehicle partnership.
Following the UWW partnership, Sporty Solutionz has been streaming the UWW competitions LIVE in the territory. The sport is reaching out to new masses in the nation where wrestling finds mention in mythological scriptures. If cricket is stated to be a religion in India, rural masses in the country are no less obsessed with wrestling. The UWW-Sporty union has made those wrestling crazy heads count for the fan base of the sport.
“The sport’s exposure has increased because of video streaming and increased television coverage. In June, United World Wrestling and India-based Sporty Solutionz signed a six-year agreement to promote wrestling on the Indian subcontinent on broadcast and digital mediums,” Washington Post has stated in the article after speaking to the world wrestling body president.
Sporty Solutionz has been streaming the Indian and international wrestling competitions LIVE on its exclusive digital wrestling news and streaming platform – WrestlingTV.
WrestlingTV has registered over 8 million views on its YouTube channel in a span of five months since its launch in September 2019. WrestlingTV is the unique digital platform that exclusively provides news, views, interviews, analysis, videos and LIVE coverage of wrestling events. The platform is successfully taking the wrestling sport to each and every fan in the country.
Lalovic, who resolved with determination to #save Olympic Wrestling, has not just succeeded in his mission but also added the wings to the sport and put it in the flying mode on the path of growth.