Time for a makeover?

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Is it time to abandon the 150 year old traditional Cumberland and Westmorland style wrestling costume?

Kids are not going to want to take part if they don't look cool This remark about wrestling appeared in a newspaper recently..on the other side of the world. The Amateur Sumo Association of Japan suggested allowing shy youngsters to wear less revealing Sumo pants something akin to cycling shorts instead of mawashi, the traditional loin cloth. The ultra-conservative professional body which oversees the sport soon put paid to such upstart ideas saying that any boy turning up for a tournament in shorts would not be allowed to wrestle

The Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling Association had much the same debate at the recent Annual General Meeting when the traditional wrestling strip came under review. Strongly held views led to a lively debate about its benefits and disadvantages.

The basic dilemma is one of the image of the sport. On the one hand, the traditional presentation of wrestling is an important part of our regional heritage, and much used by the likes of the Tourist Board as part of the distinctive image the Lake District. Many wrestlers are proud to wear the strip which seems a natural part of the sport. Young lads are keen to wrestle in the approved strip.

On the other hand, some youngsters who wrestle cannot cope with the teasing about the quaintness of the costume with its connotations of underwear and granddads. A sad instance was given of a young lad who had his photo in the paper after winning a Boys Championship. He never wrestled again because of the ribbing he got from his peers.

Gavin Fox of Longtown pointed out that the only way to change the sport's image radically would be to ban the traditional strip so that embroidery, velvet, long-johns and costume competitions would have to go. No-one wanted to go down that road to outlaw a tradition of 150 years standing. The strip has lasted so well because it is peculiarly well suited for the sport, being lightweight and tight to the body. In a sport where an inch can make the difference between winning and losing the neat fit of the strip allows judges a clear view of a fall.

The CWWA monitors and controls wrestling each year but usually allows each event to make its own decision about what the wrestlers must wear. The basic rule says: No-one shall be allowed to weigh-in in any other costume than that in which he intends to wrestle, and no wrestler be allowed to wrestle except in becoming costume..Whilst the CWWA prefers wrestlers to compete in a strip, it acknowledges that the long-standing tradition of wrestlers coming forward from the crowd means that at many venues wrestling strips will not be compulsory. In such instances the wishes of the promoter will be accepted, provided that basic standards of decency are observed. All of which means that at most events wrestlers wear what they want.

The only time when the CWWA told wrestlers that they had to wear the traditional strip was at Senior World Championship events which are allocated round different shows and sports meetings each year.

Now that has changed, for the meeting, after much agonising, came to the conclusion that for championship events wrestlers could compete wearing tight fitting track-suit bottoms or shorts as an alternative to the traditional strip. Whether or not this rule change makes much difference remains to be seen, but the decision was an acknowledgement that no impediment should stand in the way of youngsters taking their first steps in the sport.

The priority is to maintain the athletic vigour and competitiveness of C&W Wrestling, rather than worry about what the wrestlers wear.

Written by © Roger Robson. Photographs by © Roger Robson, Julian Richardson or Linda Scott (February 10th 2011)

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