British wrestling has been left unregulated for decades – it’s time we took this industry seriously
Professional wrestling in Britain is something we should be proud of, but we need to establish minimum standards and develop good practice.
Imagine there was a British product which drew so many people to its events, it could put on shows at the Wembley Arena and Scotland’s SSE Hydro. An industry whose participants went on to join some of the largest companies in the world and bring glory to Britain in America and Japan. A business which week in, week out, pumped money into the bars, restaurants and hotels across the country by delivering a few hours of magnificent entertainment to spectators that travel to see the action.
At the same time, imagine there are events taking place in Britain during which young people receive repeated kicks to the head without adequate protection. A situation in which you are forced to undress in group changing facilities shared with someone who sexually harassed you and is unlikely to ever suffer any consequence. A predicament in which you do not know what Covid guidance to follow and no-one can give you the answer.
This is Great British wrestling.
Professional wrestling in Britain is something of which we can and should be proud. Britain has a long history of developing top-flight competitors, strong and popular promotions and can boast some of the top trainers across a number of generations.
Over the past six months we have deep-dived and found that though sometimes people pour scorn or mock wrestling, not only should we be proud of it but we could be prouder. This is an industry which has been unregulated and largely neglected for decades. It should be a large export or tourist incentive for our country but without proper support it cannot reach its full potential.
The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Professional Wrestling which is published today seeks to begin the conversations, and take the steps necessary to bring change to the industry, to improve minimum standards and to undermine bad practice.
Across the wrestling industry brave individuals came forth with stories of sexual assault, abuse, predation and misconduct
The first step in this process of unlocking wrestling’s potential is to properly define whether it is sporting or theatrical. The Covid-19 pandemic proved the extent to which wrestling falls between the gaps. Promotions seeking to run shows in some instances followed two sets of guidance, but across the industry it was a pick and mix. Meanwhile, support from the likes of Sport England or the Arts Council has been difficult to secure given the uncertainty of where wrestling fits. We recommend that shows be considered theatrical entertainment and schools sporting institutions.
Whilst co-designation of wrestling is key, the health and safety of performers is our most pressing concern. Too often shows are taking place with insufficient protocols, provision and protection. This can range from empty first aid kits to a lack of ice to tend to injuries, an lack of concussion protocols and an absence of medics from shows. We have made recommendations to improve the licensing and insurance arrangements in place for wrestling events and to put minimum standards in place for the ring and other equipment used during performances.
Whilst many will be familiar with the MeToo movement, the SpeakingOut campaign was perhaps less well known but no less important. Across the wrestling industry brave individuals came forth with stories of sexual assault, abuse, predation and misconduct. Our report seeks to highlight some of the victims voices but also to hardwire these into the industry for the future so that fewer people need suffer the same painful experiences.
From memorialising wrestling through a Hall of Fame to providing legal guidance to wrestlers, from establishing trade bodies to better represent wrestling to the outside word, to ensuring that no child is put at risk through training to be a wrestler, our report seeks change across the industry to establish minimum standards and develop good practice.
We strongly recommend people take the time to read the report and hope that together we can make British wrestling truly great.
Alex Davies-Jones is the Labour MP for Pontypridd. Mark Fletcher is the Conservative MP for Bolsover. They are co-chairs of the APPG on Wrestling.