MPs have resolved a debate that has lasted at least since Big Daddy hit the giant haystacks in front of a million-strong TV audience in the 1980s.
The all-party parliamentary wrestling group has determined that professional practice in Britain should be classified as a sport in training schools and as a theater or entertainment after the show starts.
The verdict on the state of wrestling in the 103-page parliamentary report is more than an attempt to resolve the issue. MPs hope to address the serious problems in the industry that they have heard include “hyper-male, homophobic and sexist” promoters, “fundamentally exploitative” work practices and a “toxic” culture.
British wrestling has been on the rise in recent years after a period of lull when it was kicked off TV in 1985. Training schools, with names like House of Pain and Knucklelocks, have produced local stars, including Scottish Drew McIntyre and Tegan Nox of Wales, who signed a contract for WWE – the American giant for the promotion of wrestling, which also has an outpost in the UK.
Audiences are constantly growing in areas like South Wales, Newcastle, London and Birmingham. One promoter in the capital – who performed American-style shows – attracted about 700 people to pre-pandemic monthly shows.
But what some call “performance sports” and others “contact art” is largely unregulated, and the report identifies concerns about sexual abuse and misconduct, wrestlers who pay less than the minimum wage, the lack of concussions and dangerous practices such as “swimming”. “wrestlers to create a drama with real blood.
MPs now want ministers to classify wrestling training as a sport so that protection can be resolved through existing disputes conducted under the auspices of Sport England and its equivalent bodies in other UK countries. This would mean, for example, that wrestling schools would have to provide a criminal record check for coaches, which is not currently required. It would also mean that wrestling can access the government support needed now during the pandemic, which is currently being denied by Sport England and the Arts Council.
Last summer, wrestling had its #MeToo movement, known as Speaking Out, and one of its co-founders, retired wrestler Sierra Loxton, told the committee “there were no rules, no one was in charge, people were groomed, abused and then‘ lit up ’ or a victim ”. She said they were not only at wrestling festivals where problems were happening but also at post-show events and after parties.
“I was planted with some painful first-hand evidence that we heard from women, men and children: how they were treated in terms of salary and conditions; the lack of a concussion protocol, ”said Labor committee leader Alex Davies-Jones.
“There is a culture of toxic masculinity in wrestling. There were allegations of rape. We have evidence that people under the age of 13 wrestlers are sexually assaulted, and wrestlers are told they will have to sleep through their way to the top. We called on everyone who spoke about the abuse to go to the police. ”
One witness, who is herself a victim of the alleged sexual assault, told lawmakers that she had “witnessed and subjected to cultures of sexism, misogyny, harassment, abuse of power and an overly sexual atmosphere towards women in general.”
One promoter, Progress Wrestling, said he welcomed the report.
“The root of all the problems is the lack of a regulatory body from schools to promotions,” a spokesman said. “It’s just the beginning, but it’s to be welcomed because regulatory change is needed.”
MPs ’ruling that the shows show theater is unlikely to upset many in the industry. Ring spokesmen, crew and fans told MPs “without any expression” that it was show business, and one witness said that considering the sport was “an insult to real athletes”.
As another witness said, “Wrestling is a form of theater that requires the same amount of respect and discipline as sport, which can be spontaneous like an improvised comedy or planned and choreographed like music from the West End.”