On 24 September 2020, the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wrestling, Alex Davies-Jones MP and Mark Fletcher MP announced their intentiontogether with colleagues to instigate a parliamentary inquiry into the successes, challenges and potential improvements that could be made to the professional wrestling industry in Britain. In the process of compiling this report we have examined evidence from various sources and have determined that there is anurgent requirement for action on many fronts.
The terms of reference of this report are as follows:
- To inquire into the current status of British wrestling, the contribution the industry makes to Britain and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its success.
- To review whether the current law and regulations governing the industry are fit for purpose and to uncover models of good practice.
- To make recommendations, rooted in best practice where possible, for frameworks to improve, or measures to support, the industry.
The report itself is over 100 pages, full of details about the inquiry so far along with an Overview of Professional Wrestling in Britain, the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on British Wrestling, the debate on wherever or not Professional Wrestling is Sport or Theatrical Entertainment, and the Business Practices of UK Wrestling Promotions. Most importantly, Speaking Out is addressed at length.
In this article, whilst we can’t produce the entire report, we’ve highlighted some of the more notable points and on the last page, is the list of recommendations.
All text after this point is from the report itself and is fully credited towards the APPG report which will be made available online soon.
3. It would be fairly standard practice in a report of this type for us to begin with a dataset. Indeed, it would be fairly standard for that information to be provided by a professional body which in turn might be the secretariat to the APPG on Wrestling. Such a dataset could inform readers how much British professional wrestling contributes to the economy. It might inform readers how many wrestling training schools exist, their size, the number of registered performers in the UK and so on. However, despite being told there is “more wrestling in the UK per square mile than any other country in the world.” and that there had been “peaks and troughs in wrestling’s contribution to culture and the UK economy” there is a major data deficiency when it comes to substantiating these claims. No one that we spoke to throughout the inquiry process was able to detail, in full, how many wrestling promotions exist across the UK (one guessed 120), how many people pass through wrestling events in a year, how much wrestling generates for the UK economy each year, what level of investment there has been in the industry over a decade, the volume of trade UK wrestling companies do overseas and so on.
4. We were made aware of only one national survey carried out, at undergraduate level, to assess British wrestling audiences and focussed on marketing strategies to support fan attendance and retention. Though there was no benchmark for comparison, at the time, the largest demographic consisted of males up to the age of 25, and audiences were said to decline from that age onward. Fans were also said to travel short distances to shows. The survey has not been repeated and is now several years out of date. This lack of data neither helps the industry promote itself, nor to grow.
6. Fans that spoke to us suggested they could spend as much as £875 per year on tickets alone and might also book hotels for overnight stays and so on. Meanwhile, one of the larger UK promotions, Progress wrestling, talked to us about the significant financial gamble it had engaged in overbooking a show at London’s Wembley Arena, giving a sense of the reach some promotions now have. The wrestling industry’s wider positive impacts on the economy through training schools, including crime prevention, reduction in self-harm and hospital admissions were also brought to our attention and would need to be considered as part of any future economic impact assessment.
19. The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for Scotland is a non-profit entity founded in 2015 to preserve the heritage of the Scottish professional wrestling industry. It was established with the mission to celebrate and preserve the rich history of the performance art, science and sport of professional wrestling within the cultural fabric of the nation of Scotland, and to honour the achievements and significance of its key contributors. It achieves this mission through a series of annual public ceremonies dedicated to the celebration of each nominated inductee. Typically, these services occur at historic wrestling venues which were relevant to the career of the selected recipient. Each ceremony is hosted by the figurehead of the local authority relevant to the induction location and culminates with the presentation of a commemorative plaque. These plaques contain imagery and information on each inductee and are permanently located in the building which has held the ceremony. Interestingly, this domestic initiative is said to have influenced the formation of the International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in the United States, which aims to open an attraction in New York.
20. The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for Scotland is an excellent initiative; one we recommend the Scottish Government should officially recognise and support. We hope that with support from across Great Britain this might be expanded further, preserving and appropriately memorialising great British wrestling talents and will engage the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about this.
26. This good work was sadly balanced by evidence including that “of course there is” racism in the British industry. “Someone screamed at me to go back to my country”, said someone of a Scottish bout, “I’ve become so immune to it I thought they meant England!”. Some considered that there was a general lack of representation and diversity: “I think the industry still has a long way to go in terms of including and involving people from a range of different ethnic backgrounds, genders and sexual orientations. I would like to see more diversity in the ring and in positions of responsibility in wrestling organisations” said one witness. Some submissions were hopeful as we are, about the potential for the industry “there are a lot more promotions than even ten years ago and more work (though room to grow) for female and BAME wrestlers.”
28. Those facing discrimination need not suffer alone. There are expert groups that can help. The LGBT+ anti-violence organisation GALOP drew our attention to its Hate Crime Quality Standard which includes some useful tools and the organisation maintains some specific resources on tackling biphobia and transphobia which we would recommend to those working within the wrestling industry. So too, resources for learning about and tackling anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, anti-Black racism and other forms of abuse are easily discoverable online. We hope wrestling promotions and others will maintain and promote details of such facilities, including the excellent wrestling safety resource.
32. We did receive some, albeit limited feedback on the impact of what was said to be increasing globalisation on the British industry. Certainly, witnesses were aware of the role WWE has played in partnering with (or ‘swallowing up’ as one submission characterised it) large UK independent companies. There were differing opinions on the extent to which the WWE partnership benefited the industry in the UK. Some thought standards, particularly at shows featuring WWE-contracted talent had been raised, that there were more opportunities for UK talent both in training and career prospects and that WWE and others had helped draw fans from TV to independent live events. Others thought the perceived or real prohibitions on talent performing across the UK, including in certain types of matches (e.g. intergender); or on streamed shows which draw money for UK promotions; or supporting brand promotions at odds with WWE, allegedly in breach of previous guarantees to the contrary, were detrimental to the industry. However, this alleged talent grab did allow, said one witness, for rising prospects to receive opportunities. For ICW, which works with WWE, the partnership benefits were significant. We were told the company has enabled full-time jobs for 30-40 people in the UK, who were paying off mortgages and saving for pensions, this was “unthinkable when we started”. There was also previously no “direct route from Glasgow to WWE. Now there is”. “From the GPWA [Glasgow Pro Wrestling Aslyum] to ICW to NXT:UK where you get trained by the greatest professionals, they [Scottish talent] then train the locals – how can that be deemed a bad thing?!”
33. Away from WWE, some pointed to the relationship between UK independent company Revolution Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling. This was said by some to be ‘deserving’ of mention but ‘very self-contained’, helping each company in their respective national markets. For RevPro, we were told. the New Japan deal is hugely important and WWE’s efforts in the market disadvantageous