By Callum Murray
FILA, the international wrestling federation, could adopt a new name and logo at its congress in Tashkent on September 7, according to Nenad Lalovic, the federation’s president, who also expects to face challenges to his presidency at elections to be held during the congress.
Serbia’s Lalovic became president of FILA a year ago after the International Olympic Committee’s executive board’s shock decision to recommend the sport for exclusion from the 2020 Olympics, resulting in the resignation of his predecessor Raphael Martinetti. FILA was widely thought to have paid the penalty for a perception that its leadership of the sport was old-fashioned and out of touch. However, wrestling eventually regained its place on the programme at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires in September after Lalovic led a successful reform campaign.
Lalovic told Sportcal today that he is keen to continue with the reform programme, including changing the name and logo of the federation, saying: “I think that only Fifa [soccer’s world governing body], which everybody knows, can afford a name like this. All other abbreviations are difficult for fans.
"Only people involved know that name [FILA]. It’s important that everyone knows who we are and what we’re doing, and a different name could help. We’ve started the process to change the name, and we’re now negotiating with different companies to help us, and then we will make a decision. I have thoughts on the name, but I’d prefer to let the specialists decide.”
FILA’s ruling bureau is due to meet this month to decide whether to go ahead with the changes this year, or wait for “maybe a year,” Lalovic said, adding: “Personally, I would prefer to do it now and decide [on the new name and logo] at the congress in Tashkent. The following one is not until Rio [the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro]”.
Lalovic said that he expects “a few candidates” to emerge to challenge him for the leadership of the federation at the elections later this year, pointing out wryly that when he took over from Martinetti, with wrestling under threat of the Olympic axe, “no one wanted to be president, but today everybody wants to.”
Asked whether the likelihood of rival presidential candidates emerging means that there is strong opposition to Lalovic’s reform programme within the sport, he said: “It doesn’t mean they are opposed, but today wrestling is in a much better situation, so ambition grows. A lot of people don’t understand how close we were to disaster; it was a millimetre. In the wrestling community, a lot of people think it was just a joke, an action to frighten us; they don’t understand that we were very nearly out [of the Olympics].”
In contrast, Lalovic added, “in the external community most people were shocked that we succeeded [in staying on the programme]. But for me, we didn’t succeed yet. We will succeed when we implement all the reforms.”
Further reforms on the table include electing a fourth woman to the 18-member bureau, along with a female vice-president, making five vice-presidents in all, at the elections in September. The federation is also working on a new design for the singlets worn by wrestlers to help differentiate its two disciplines, freestyle and Greco-Roman, and to update the appearance of athletes.
However, Lalovic said, “The singlets are very difficult. This is a long procedure. It’s difficult to find not only the shape of the singlets, but also the materials. In September [at the congress], we will be able to present new singlets. Maybe they won’t be used immediately from 2015, but we'll try anyway. We still don’t have the final solutions.”
Lalovic is also keen to improve the presentation of competitions in other ways, saying: “We have to learn from broadcasters what they need, what makes a sport attractive. I want to have a better presentation of the athlete when he enters the hall, with lights and music – like boxing. Boxing does it very well, but it can also be improved.”
FILA has embarked on a project, the ‘World Wrestling Plan,’ together with TSE Consulting, the Lausanne-based sports management consultancy, with the aim of improving the work first of FILA, then of wrestling’s continental confederations and lastly of its national federations. Lalovic said: “This involves changes in governance, communications, and events [including the presentation of the sport]. By the end of 2015 this plan will be implemented in the whole wrestling community.”
Late last year, Lalovic was involved in a car accident resulting in a serious arm injury and his arm remains in a sling, despite two operations to try to repair nerve damage. The accident, he said, “taught me a lot” about how to structure his work schedule, after losing close to three months of the time he would have devoted to the reform programme.
The federation, he said, is working on improving its media exposure, albeit “during the three months of my injury it stopped.” Lalovic said that FILA has “started negotiations” with Olympic Broadcasting Services, the IOC’s host broadcasting arm, on “what we need to do to improve the interest of broadcasters.”
However, he pointed out that there is already increased interest from television, with the most recent World Championships in Budapest in Hungary last September being covered by 15 separate broadcasters, compared with only six or seven for previous editions. Lalovic attributed the improvement in part to new rules already implemented to make the sport more attractive to spectators and television viewers (the rules were trialled for the first time at the Universiade in Kazan, Russia last July).
The federation is also preparing to announce a new USA-based sponsor, either this month or next, Lalovic said.
He concluded: “We have a difficult job to do. We’ve gone a long way, but we now have to consolidate our strengths at the next congress. I’m happy that today governance of FILA is fully transparent, the community has evolved and we’re developing the World Wrestling Plan. The first phase, the reconstruction of the federation, is done. We’ve taken on new staff members, external consultants and an internal co-ordinator.”