In February of 2013 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dropped wrestling from the 2020 Olympic programme and, even though it was reinstated later that year, it’s painfully obvious that it’s not a sport that is particularly respected or seen as a mainstream event.
Team GB wrestlers Yahia Tehami, 20, and Abdullah Hannan, 19, were both introduced to the sport together during secondary school and now have aspirations to revive the dying art of wrestling after having been recognised as some of the nation’s top young talents.
The pair have won medals in national and international competitions including Europe’s biggest tournament, the Tallinn Open in Estonia. Abdullah, having won the English and British championships on four occasions, recently competed in his first senior tournament, winning silver in Helsinki. They have both been selected to represent Britain in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and will hope to use the event as a platform to break into the olympic reckoning.
“The Olympics is the crown jewel of achievement in wrestling,” Yahia illustrated. “There are many more steps for me to take, hopefully after finishing my junior career I will have more of an international presence. Abdullah and I have been selected to compete in the Commonwealth Games and a gold medal there will open more doors. All of this would build me up to compete in Paris 2024.”
Wrestling is a one man sport, where participants have to rely on skill and technique alone to win. Yahia mentions that his close relationship with Abdullah and his team have really enhanced both their abilities. “We’ve known each other for a better part of a decade and I can speak for years on the things we have gone through for the sport. We trained on the same team since the beginning and our development as athletes has been there from the start.”
In 2013 British Wrestling chief executive, Colin Nicholson, told BBC Sport after the reinstatement of wrestling in the Olympic programme that Britain will now re-focus on growing participation. The IOC assessed all 26 sports in the 2012 Games and deemed wrestling to be of least interest, scrapping it from the Tokyo Games. “Wrestling has never been a mainstream sport,” Yahia reiterates.
A successful campaign was launched to convince the IOC that the sport was worthy of being included on the Olympic stage, by countries where wrestling is seen as popular such as Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia.
“Unfortunately Great Britain has a very winning mentality, so they neglected the sports that haven’t really brought in many gold medals. In turn there’s very little inspiration to start them off in this country, that’s why very few wrestlers in Britain can imagine (having the success) that people like me and Abdullah have,” Yahia adds.
I want to be the reason why this sport is mainstream so the next generation can have a structure, which wasn’t there for me, for the wrestling to develop and excel.- Yahia
Wrestling has a tendency to be seen as ‘boring’ due to the many rules and regulations imposed on it, unlike other combat sports such as MMA or boxing which create a huge spectacle among audiences around the world. Wrestling, though, involves a technicality which many fight sports are based on today.
Yahia adds: “People think it’s boring because they don’t see any blood or someone getting punched up or anything. The artistry behind the techniques in wrestling is unparalleled. In a combat sport like MMA, the core foundation is wrestling and people don’t appreciate that and view it as boring.”
Abdullah believes that there should be a system implemented to educate people around the UK about the hidden beauty of wrestling. “Whenever we mention wrestling people tend to think straight away about the WWE and it’s fake etc. This shows that people are unaware of the actual sport or of its existence. If there is a scheme available to introduce wrestling to schools around the country whether it’s a seminar or a practical session, it could possibly spark an interest in hundreds of thousands of kids across the UK.
“When people see Khabib (Nurmagomedov) fight in MMA, they see how he throws opponents around and how he controls them on the ground, they don’t realise all of this is wrestling.”
Millions of people around the UK would have seen Khabib Nurmagomedov sign off his MMA career against Justin Gaethje in spectacular fashion. Could his retirement help inspire a change in the approach to wrestling in this country? Only time will tell.