wrestling / Columns

#SpeakingOut: Rebuilding A Broken Wrestling Scene

June 22, 2020 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
Jack Gallagher David Starr SpeakingOut

As I begin to write this on Sunday afternoon, British wrestling and the wider wrestling scene is coming to terms with an utterly avoidable scandal.

For the sake of due process, I’m not going to specifically go into details of the accusations in this article. Following along on social media has been increasingly depressing as a fan, as once serious accusations around David Starr emerged, a growing list of wrestlers and fans spoke out on ever more harrowing experiences that have come around from all corners of the scene.

Supported by the likes of Sierra Loxton, Leanne Marie and Lucy Openshaw, stories quickly overwhelmed social media. Stories that had previously been open secrets to some, to the point that they had been mentioned in promos in front of crowds at shows.

Yet despite that, it’s taken the bravery of those affected to come forward before anything has been done about it. Rev Pro, PROGRESS, OTT and TNT Wrestling in the UK and Ireland are among a group of promotions who’ve distanced themselves from those who have been named. Titles removed, referees and wrestlers suspended indefinitely or excommunicated from promotions (which is a weird choice of phrasing given that independent promotions, by their very nature, tend to not contract wrestlers).

A week that started with accusations over the conduct of fans and a squabble among wrestlers and star ratings ended with something much more serious. A situation that has left a lot of fans questioning what’s next. A lot of fans are questioning their love for the sport/entertainment that they’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money on. Having lived through wrestling at the time of the Chris Benoit murders, the fallout from these two situations are comparable – and in this case, much more severe, if only because of the number of people involved across the industry.

Wrestling, regardless of where in the world, needs to change. The power dynamic, whether between wrestlers, promoters and fans, trainers and trainees, and everything in between, needs to change. The culture of after parties, particularly those after every show, needs to at least be questioned, and at most, stopped. The culture of those running shows, promotions and training schools without much background checking other than vouching for mates’ words must end.

One such proposed option of background screening, using the British Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly the Criminal Records Bureau), isn’t ideal  especially as those only list convictions – and depending on the level of checks performed – can only include active criminal records, rather than check the Barred lists of people who have been flagged to the service through criminal records or through referrals. Those checks need to be done regularly, names submitted to those barred lists, and all results taken notice of. Will it be emotionally tiresome? Will it be costly? Yes. Will it be worth it? Of course.

A few weeks ago I wrote about what the future of indie wrestling would be like post-Coronavirus. At the time, that was only looking at “gee, how many fans can we safely get through the door?” (although some don’t seem to be paying much care to that). Right now though, the much bigger issue is about safety on a much wider scale. Safety for wrestlers. Safety for fans. Safety for everyone.

Fans who were shouted down in the past when someone with a questionable history was brought up need to be listened to. Red flags that we once ignored, need to be paid attention to. No more can the story of “if it didn’t happen at our show, it’s not on us” be used. No more can “well, they were good to us” be a neutraliser. Given that the essence of wrestling matches is all about “trusting your body to somebody else,” it’s clear that trust has been abused across so many levels. The “old way” simply does not work. So many people, at all levels, have had their trust broken. While it’s completely understandable that fans, today at least, are questioning their fandom, we owe it to the good eggs who are looking at clearing the decks to be there for them.

Just before I submitted this piece, PROGRESS announced a major reshuffle behind the scenes, with commentator Glen Robinson (Glen Joseph, who also is listed as a part-owner in the promotion, and also has a hand in NXT UK) and ring announce Matt Richards leaving their roles on-and-off screen. Named in their place are Vicki Haskins, Michael Oku (also known as “The OJMO” in PROGRESS), James Amner and “Luce from Socials” (who, unsurprisingly, will have a hand in the upgrade on some of PROGRESS’ recent social media game). A popular set of appointments, and a surprising choice at that, but for some fans, trust will need to be re-earned.

Previous favourites, be it wrestlers or promotions, should be consigned to the dustbin of history if they’ve shown that they’re unable to be trusted, or change. What rises from the ashes of this broken scene will be different, for the better, and will be worth following. It won’t be an overnight job, but it’ll be one worth doing. For those who have been brave enough to force this change.