Max Winters

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined their bid for recognition in August, the International Sambo Federation (FIAS) could have easily conceded defeat but, after attending the sport’s World Championships here in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, it is obvious they have not.

As the IOC gathered prior to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, FIAS had been hopeful of being put forward for full recognition only to be overlooked along with several other Federations.

Baseball and softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were all added to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020 while sambo, among others, missed out on even clearing the first hurdle.

Speaking at a recent session of the Council for the Development of Physical Culture and Sport in the Russian region of Vladimir, FIAS President Vasily Shestakov stated that the immediate objective was to gain recognition before considering Olympic Games participation.

"The International Sambo Federation properly assesses the current situation and clearly understands that with so many sports existing today, the most important [thing] is to get full Olympic recognition first," he said.

"The Olympic recognition can put sambo on a par with the leading sports and if it ever happens, sambo will get a huge impulse for further development and youth attraction."

Since the rejection in August, however, FIAS has not given up hope and the governing body has used it as fuel to grow the sport around the world.

There are currently 80 nations competing here at the World Championships, while a further 40 countries are developing the sport in their homelands.

The sport’s governing body continues to make strides forward and it is obvious from being around the athletes, the heads of National Federations and those that work for the governing body, that there is a real passion and drive to see the sport they love succeed.

Growth of the Russian martial-art in a global sense is visible in the United States where the sport is ever-expanding in a country outside of sambo's traditional homelands of Europe and Asia.

Their National Federation is always increasing in size and, thanks to modern technology, FIAS can see through their website traffic that online interest is most prevalent in the US.

Expansion of the sport is also visible in the ongoing development of beach sambo. 

FIAS have seen the fruits of their labour in recent weeks with the sport capturing imaginations at the 2016 Asian Beach Games in Danang, where Mongolia secured 50 per cent of the gold medals.

FIAS President Vasily Shestakov stated that FIAS' immediate objective was to gain IOC recognition ©FIAS
FIAS President Vasily Shestakov stated that FIAS' immediate objective was to gain IOC recognition ©FIAS

Similarly to last year’s various sambo competitions, Russia have dominated the World Championships so far, winning 11 of the 18 gold medals available in the first two days.

However, the standard of competition across the globe is constantly improving and we have seen medallists from all corners of the world this week.

Cameroonian Bibiene Fora won Africa’s only medal of the competition so far in the women’s 64 kilogram division yesterday, while Asia has also been represented with bronze medallists arriving from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Mongolia.

"The competition is getting more intense every year," Shestakov told insidethegames.

"In the past it used to be very easy for Russian athletes but these days we can see that every point and medal won takes much more effort and commitment because the global standard of the sport is always improving.

"We are also confident that the increase in quantity of countries participating will also lead to an increase in quality across the competitions and they are now showing better results including a Cameroon athlete winning a bronze today.

"We saw last year at the World Championships in Casablanca that 21 different countries won medals."

Another example of the changes FIAS are implementing to take sambo to the next level is the small amount of changes that were made to the FIAS statutes to bring some of the sport's laws in-line with those of the IOC.

One of the changes to be revealed was to encourage the women's side of sambo sport, while the second surrounded the promotion of the sport's ethical and moral standing.

The aim is to prevent things such as corruption, doping offences and match-fixing.

The FIAS Executive Committee must also now have at least a 25 per cent women's representation to conform to IOC standards, while a President can no longer serve more than three consecutive terms of four-years in office.

The decision on IOC recognition for sambo is expected in early December ©FIAS
The decision on IOC recognition for sambo is expected in early December ©FIAS

In recent years FIAS has gathered control of its own anti-doping practices after previously outsourcing them and they are now at the forefront of making sure their sport is a clean one.

So far this week extensive testing has taken place at the Arena Armeec, and the governing body imposes strong punishments for anybody who violates the code.

Four athletes have been banned from competition by the FIAS Anti-Doping Hearing Panel in recent years, one of the various Committees created by FIAS.

"We can proudly say that we are working very hard on our anti-doping campaign," Shestakov added.

"We are always in close connection with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and they are very happy with our work, which they have proven in their correspondence with us."

An official date has yet to be confirmed for when FIAS will learn its IOC fate, but the decision is expected in early December.

When the IOC makes its announcement on which Federations to welcome next, sambo will be waiting nervously.

However, rest assured, if they are not chosen once again it can almost be guaranteed that the campaign to gain recognition and one day bring sambo to the lofty heights of the Olympic Games will be tireless until it achieves its goal.