Sat, March 21, 2009

FILA President: Wrestling needs more popularity in China

2009-03-21 12:19:10 GMT2009-03-21 20:19:10 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

By Sportswriter Yue Dongxing

TAIYUAN, North China, March 21 (Xinhua) -- The girls were sweating and struggling to pin down their rivals on the mat amid cheers of their teammates, who, while during intervals, offered instruction and massage.

This scene formed a sharp contrast with the silence on the stands, where few people sat listlessly despite the rock background beat.

The cold reception was observed by the world's sport governing body. Raphael Martinetti, President of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA in French), told Xinhua on Saturday that the sport needs more attention around the country.

"Everything goes on smoothly here. The gym is good, and the wrestlers are among the top level in the world," said Martinetti during the ongoing women's World Cup.

"But there are few spectators in the stands. It's the only regret and needs to be improved," he added.

Featuring only team event, the top-level wrestling tournament officially opened in northern China's Shanxi Province on Saturday afternoon. The two-day competitions attracted more than 100 athletes from the top eight teams on the world rankings -- Japan, Canada, the United States, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus and host China.

"I hope the Chinese team can win the title. They did very well in morning's group stage. But Japan and Russia are also world's top teams. It's not easy to win and the competitions are fierce and well appreciated," said the president.

Despite the intense fights on mats, the 10-yuan (about 1.8 U.S. dollars) tickets still couldn't lure fans to the venue even in the weekend. The grand gymnasium with thousands of seats only saw less than one hundred spectators.

"Wrestling is very popular in Europe and other regions. But in China, it was less popular and really needs much more attention. The rules and the charms of the sport should be known to much more people in the future," said Martinetti.

On how to promote the popularity around the country, the president noted that the Chinese Wrestling Association should improve infrastructure first. Besides, the Swiss added that China needs more world champions to attract people, like the table tennis in China.

"If China's wrestlers could win more titles in the world, like world championships or Olympics, some of them may become well known around the country. Then, more Chinese people could pay attention to the sport and gradually develop the liking for it," he said.

While addressing the problem, the president also praised the steady progress of the host's wrestlers, especially after the great success of the last year's Beijing Olympics, in which China's up-and-coming Wang Jiao grabbed freestyle 72kg class gold.

"Chinese wrestlers improved a lot in recent years, particularly in women's arena. For example, Wang Jiao is very young and talented. I believe she could win many world titles in the future if she trains hard," said the Swiss.

"But Chinese players also need more international experiences. They need to take part in more tournaments to compete with world's top players. Then, they could go farther." he added.

The president corrected people's misunderstandings in the value of women's wrestling compared with men's physical advantage. He claimed that women's players were more aggressive and sharp in attack. "It is very competitive and well appreciated if you know it," he said.

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