Editor’s Note: On Feb. 12, Dan Gable was among the countless wrestling fans in this country, who were shocked to hear that the International Olympic Committee was recommending that wrestling be dropped from the Olympics, beginning in 2020. Gable, a gold medalist wrestler and coach, recently spoke to WIN Editor Mike Finn about the decision and what needs to happen to get wrestling re-instated on a regular basis in the Olympics.
WIN: When you heard about this, you spoke about how emotional you were. Why?
GABLE: This may turn out OK and really good or we could lose an Olympics or more than that. Just the fact that we could have a possibility or having any of that lost, makes me cry. I already saw what happened in 1980 (when the U.S. boycotted the Olympics for international political reasons) when we had Olympic wrestling. That was heartache. That was not the right decision. They always say the one thing we have to worry about is sports and politics. I know there will always be politics in sports, but it should never go to this high of a level and that’s where it is.
WIN: Was this decision based on sports and politics?
GABLE: Yes, this is sports and politics and from a standpoint of (FILA) not being very smart in how it ran wrestling. But it was the politics by the group (IOC) above FILA, which is stronger. There was politics and not good politics. There were too many things that did not make a cohesive group (of FILA and the IOC). Relationships and a lot of things could have been better … and it will become better now. But at what expense will there be in making it happen? Hopefully, it can be a better organization, a better sport and not miss a beat.
WIN: Are you familiar with, Nenad Lalovic, the new acting director of FILA?
GABLE: I’m not real familiar with him personally, but after many hours on the phone, I’m more familiar than what I was. I have to feel that Stan Dziedzic (named an assistant to Lalovic) would also be the best choice they could make now.
WIN: Is this the highest influence that the U.S. has had on FILA?
GABLE: It would take someone of the late Bill Farrell’s stature and who has been involved for the last 40 years. Based on a quick answer, yes. But I’m not sure if Stan is really moving up since he was already a vice president. The issue was that (FILA) was the president (Raphaël Martinetti) and no one else.
I believe that Martinetti kept tight control, so much so that he could not get the help he could have gotten. When you are dealing with a big sport throughout the world, you need a lot of help. With all these other people on the board, there is more potential help.
WIN: If FILA is to blame, what went wrong?
GABLE: It was a system that allowed this type of power to take place. If you look around the world, you can pin point a few places where that has happened and where things fell apart. When people are in charge, they should try to take care of everybody in some capacity. I think the system was too one-sided and broken.
WIN: When you say the system was broken, what do you mean by that?
GABLE: Unless you are a genius, or have the luck to win a lottery, you have a lot to get done and you have to do it in fine fashion. The system needs to be revamped a little bit and a lot. We need a lot of brains working and not just one brain.
WIN: What recommendations would you make to FILA?
GABLE: Pretty much what everybody thinks and that is thinking about the future. They need to establish a plan of where and why FILA and the sport fits into the IOC and the Olympic Games. We also need to make changes to the sport to make it the best possible sport in every area: technically, tactically, politically. Everything that I hear from high people is that (FILA) was not doing its homework. It’s pretty simple. You go to school and don’t do your homework, you might still get good grades, but you’ll eventually fail. We might have sold out arenas, but that’s not good enough criteria (to keep wrestling). I had some wrestlers who fell into this type of category and until they changed their ways of doing their homework, they were not going to wrestle.
WIN: What about the current rules of wrestling, changed many times by FILA?
GABLE: This organization also has to keep up with the times. You can look at American wrestling and some of the rules that we’ve had in history and see where they are now. It’s a lot better than the way FILA went through rules. There are less politics involved in (folkstyle rules). FILA says officials can’t call stalling. We don’t want wrestlers to stall. The bottom line is that you look at the rules and see how they need to progress from a non-political way and in a sports-entertainment style for the fans and the athletes. Then I think FILA can make some good decisions.
But FILA should not worry so much about the rules, but overturning the IOC decision. I don’t know if it has as much to do with the rules. What’s important now is what is FILA’s plan for promotion and how FILA is going to work with the IOC and be compatible.
WIN: The countries of Russia and Iran have joined with the United States in saving wrestling in the Olympics. Can’t the world learn something from this unique coalition?
GABLE: That is something of value. (The U.S. doesn’t) usually get along with Russia and Iran, but we get along with them on this issue. When you find common bonds among countries that want to have power, it brings along peace a little easier.
WIN: On Feb. 15, you were part of a press conference in Des Moines with Iowa governor Terry Branstad to speak about the IOC decision and to promote the sport of wrestling. There are other grassroots organizations around the country and around the world doing the same thing. How do these organizations come together and get this message across so that FILA and the IOC understand and are listening?
GABLE: That’s a hard question to answer but the most important thing is the statements by these groups should not be confusing. We should not be throwing out facts and what people can do to help this cause right away. Right now, everyone should be on alert, go to the proper websites, keep updated and get involved. Stay educated and do what you can. The governor even by-passed the normal channels to create the “KeepWrestling.com” T-shirts we were wearing and handing out. When he got asked about doing that, he said it was such a good investment to the state of Iowa. It was a good investment for the state. Just look at how much money was brought in from the 2012 Olympic Trials in Iowa City, the high school state tournament in Des Moines and packed high school and college arenas all over the state.
We need to make sure the IOC, which does not have any wrestling people on its committee, sees the sport is multiplying across the world. We need to better educate the people who are voting on this. They need to know wrestling is well-established and we’re not going to go away.
WIN: Wrestling has taken its shots on the college level, including the impact of Title IX on wrestling. Some people might say, “If the world doesn’t care about wrestling, why should college administrators care about the sport?”
GABLE: Some people could use this as a reason to justify an action, but most people are smart enough to know that is not the case. It’s the ones who already have an agenda, which is not a true agenda. No one can say wrestling is not a national sport. There is only one state that does not have high school wrestling. We have states where there are so many high school wrestlers but few if any college wrestling programs like California and Florida. The states that are taking care of these wrestlers are the states that offer college wrestling.
The best thing about this situation is that I haven’t heard comments from a media source, including those that don’t follow wrestling on a regular basis, which agreed with the IOC. And when those in the media do a little research, they see that wrestling is popular in this country. I think in the first week since the IOC announcement, I bet I spoke to over 100 media outlets around the country. There were a lot of them that didn’t know how good the wrestling was that existed around them.