If there is another topic within the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling that is more divisive than passivity, then by all means, please share. Because if there is one thing athletes, coaches, officials, and fans alike can agree on, it is that passivity is one area in need of concise clarification. Thankfully, steps are being taken to ensure that is the case.
Just under a month ago, USA Wrestling unveiled its “Wrestling Modifications to UWW (United World Wrestling) Rules.” With just a cursory glance, the document does not appear to offer anything new to be concerned about, at least not for Greco-Roman participants. All of the current rules and point values are still the same, and ordered par terre isn’t being re-introduced yet. It’s pretty much business as usual. Except for this:
“Grabbing of the fingers will be penalized much stricter than before. The referee shall say “Open” and may reach in and break the lock. After the initial warning, this is to be penalized with a caution and 2 points.”
Needless to say, a caution-and-two for finger-grabbing epitomizes the term “aggressive enforcement.” The machinations of grabbing the fingers are well understood. Wrestlers presenting a defensive posture will often grab the fingers to slow the action or disrupt an opponent’s rhythm. Everyone knows this. On fewer occasions, offensive wrestlers may hand-fight into finger grabs in effort to set up better tie-up positions, but really, finger-grabbing and intertwining is much more synonymous with being passive than it is anything else.
This rule emphasis arrives due to a more focused approach by UWW to hone in on the parameters officials will use to (better) decipher the active wrestler from the passive wrestler. In a sport crammed with nuance, the need for clarity becomes ever-more pressing. Zach Errett, a decorated longtime official for USA Wrestling who also holds a place on the UWW Referees Commission, is trying his best to convey just how these changes will be rolled out and of course, what it is exactly that officials will be looking for.
“If a wrestler is in par terre and they do that (finger grab), then it would be a caution,” says Errett. “If they grab the fingers like that to prevent a score, they would probably get penalized. If they just grab them standing, they would get a warning first before a caution.”
“Hooking”, using an underhook or overhook, over/unders, Et al., is another set of holds/positions that can work two ways. Right now, United World Wrestling eyes hooking as the foundation from which scoring holds are built, as can easily be witnessed in this video. Errett sees it the same way. For the ref, hooking is a catalyst that can be tangibly understood and used as a measuring stick to determine which wrestler is more often on the attack, thus resulting in less ambiguity.
“The analysis that was done by UWW shows that a very high percentage of scoring from the standing position is a result of these types of hooking actions,” Errett explains. “This is the new approach for identifying and applying passivity and think it is a good way, too. I know that in the past, the focus was on the wrestlers being chest to chest with their heads up. However, many good wrestlers know how to block from that position and make it look good. I think looking for how (a wrestler) is actively trying to ‘hook’, closing the distance and making attempts, is a good way to identify who is actually trying to score. Therefore, the non-active wrestler would be considered the passive wrestler.”
It sounds so simple and perhaps, it could be. Open wrestling is not a subjective concept. Wrestlers typically score offensive points when they are attacking. A healthy percentage of the problem lies between higher-level defense on the Senior level and styles born as a direct response to that notion. Competitors do not enjoy yielding positions when points are at a premium. On the same token, the inability to properly comprehend what constitutes being passive is nearly a global issue at this juncture. Communicating concrete factors that will inevitably lead to passivity calls can go a long way towards alleviating some of the confusion that has seemingly always followed Greco around like a black cloud.
As far as the United States is concerned, one hangup is the sheer fact that referees do not get a lot of opportunities to apply new directives in domestic events. There is not a time lapse of progression for them to compare and contrast against. Errett, who in 2010 was named the USA Wrestling Official of the Year and later, receiving FILA’s Golden Whistle Award at the World Championships, knows there is work to be done for him and his colleagues. “With this being new, it is going to take some time to train and help identify the active wrestler. However, we may only work one, maybe two Senior events all year. This will certainly be a learning process for us as we go through this. I hope that over time we are able to provide training along with the experience to help improve the consistency of how passivity is called.”
What this means for the Trials
Despite United World Wrestling reportedly testing out forced par terre again at several events overseas in the near future, it doesn’t mean it is returning right away (and even if UWW put forced par terre back in before the World Team Trials, USA Wrestling would not be compelled to include it.) For now, the rule-set for Las Vegas is the same as it currently stands, save for the finger-grabbin’ cautions that loom in the background. “It will still be two passivities equals one point, “ confirms Errett. “Anytime there is a change in how passivity is applied, it takes some time to figure out how and when to make the calls. Until it is finalized for the next Olympic cycle, it might take some time to get it all squared away.”
One way or the other, eventually, this is all going to get figured out. Greco-Roman wrestling needs offensive points and maybe just as much, it needs American wrestlers to be a part of another new era in the sport. For that to happen, understanding is necessary — from everyone. From the officials on and around the mat to the athletes, coaches, and fans who help keep the sport churning defiantly, knowing what to expect is the first hurdle in need of clearing. Improvement in all facets will arrive once those interested in Greco’s true health are on the same page. A big chunk of the responsibility falls on the officials and it’s a fact that Errett doesn’t shy away from.
“Will this solve all the problems? No. It is still very subjective and it is going to take time for us to improve in this area. I do think we will do our very best to make sure that we are fair and that the correct wrestler wins the match.”
That’s all we can ask, isn’t it?