Britain’s female wrestlers have spoken out on sexual abuse. The industry must be better governed
Wrestling has had it's own #MeToo movement, using the #SpeakingOut hashtag | PA Images
Practical measures must be put in place to safeguard participants and make wrestling an attractive feature of Britain’s sport and entertainment output
It has been an extraordinarily difficult year for families and businesses up and down the country. A less obvious lesson that coronavirus has sadly taught us all is that there are many deep-rooted inequalities that have been allowed to persist for far too long across the UK. I’ve always said it like it is and our circumstances today are no different: enough is enough.
We all remember the headlines when the #MeToo campaign went viral. The campaign grew in momentum practically overnight, initially in response to the allegations against disgraced former film producer and now convicted sex offender, Harvey Weinstein. Yet the movement rapidly progressed to a huge range of industries beyond Hollywood, and very quickly became a global campaign that we were all talking about.
The world of sport soon followed with its own alarming tales of sexual harassment and abuse. The spotlight was cast on the appalling malpractice that was regularly occurring in women’s gymnastics and I think I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard of the former US Olympic gymnastics team doctor (and now a convicted sex offender), Larry Nassar. I remember reading about the absolutely abhorrent abuse of power that Larry had displayed over a number of years and was disgusted.
Sadly, as with most big news stories, the world quickly forgot those powerful testimonies from the women and young girls who were impacted, and we moved on. Yet this sexual abuse and misogyny still continued, just elsewhere.
Young female wrestlers have seen their virginity become a source of competition between male competitors
Professional wrestling is a global industry with a huge following here in the UK. I’d personally seen a fair few matches myself and was quite gripped by the performative aspects of wrestling that make the sport unique, but I had no idea about what was lurking under the surface.
An evening scroll on Twitter soon revealed a movement that mirrored #MeToo, but this time it seemed even closer to home. Female wrestlers across the world with huge online followings – many of them based in my South Wales constituency – were bravely opening up about their sexual abuse all in the name of #SpeakingOut.
I felt compelled to act and, with a group of cross-party MPs, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wrestling was soon born. In the few short months since the group came together, we’ve heard from a huge number of victims. From young female wrestlers who have seen their virginity become a source of competition between male competitors to more stories of domestic and sexual violence than I could ever have imagined, I feel like I’ve heard it all but at the same time know that we’re only scratching the surface.
There is clearly a systemic problem very specific to wrestling and the APPG’s biggest struggle is getting others outside of the industry to pay attention. Wrestling is considered ‘performative’ yet clearly there is also an athletic element too. The industry lacks any formal regulation and attempts to unionise have sadly not yet had the desired widespread impact.
I’ve challenged the secretary of state and made him aware of the problem, but in a world where coronavirus rules the roost, progress has been even slower than usual. The women at the heart of the abuse can’t and shouldn’t have to wait. Sexual abuse and misogynistic behaviours are being allowed to persist and only when these voices are listened to by the mainstream will we be any closer to eradicating sexism and misogyny across all sports.
Until then, I’ll continue to do all that I can to be a loud and proud voice, and will always stand alongside anyone brave enough to speak out.
Alex Davies-Jones is Labour MP for Pontypridd and co-chair of the APPG on Wrestling