‘Khabib & Fedor do so much for us’: Sambo federation boss on sport’s push for Olympic status

‘Khabib & Fedor do so much for us’: Sambo federation boss on sport’s push for Olympic status
The head of the International Sambo Federation (FIAS) has said Russian MMA stars Khabib Nurmagomedov and Fedor Emelianenko have boosted the popularity of the sport as it seeks full Olympic recognition.

Sambo, a combat sport which originated in Russia, received temporary recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amid its 80th anniversary celebrations last year.

The push towards full inclusion at the Games continues to gather pace, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a known fan, vowing as recently as Wednesday that efforts would continue in this area.

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Other big-name supporters of the sport include Russian MMA heavyweight legend Emelianenko and UFC lightweight king Nurmagomedov – both of whom have credited the sport with providing a basis for their fighting skills.

Speaking to RT, FIAS Vasily Shestakov credited the pair with bringing popularity to the sport, and expressed hope that Sambo would soon make its Olympic bow.

“[Being granted temporary recognition] is not only for us, employees of the federation, but first of all for athletes, coaches, judges and fans of the sport around the world,” Shestakov said.   

“The significance of this event is difficult to overestimate. In addition, this is the first Russian sport in history which received temporary recognition by the IOC and has a real chance of entering the Olympic program.” 

When asked about what that meant for the future and a potential speeding up of the process, Shestakov urged cautious optimism.

“Any sport must first receive temporary recognition, and then – permanent. Only after this happens can it have inclusion in the Olympic program. Let's hope and believe that it will happen.

“The final recognition actually follows the provisional, an exception can be only in some force majeure circumstances. If we don’t violate the IOC and WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] codes, we will acquire the corresponding status on an ongoing basis,” he added.

When asked why fans would want to see Sambo at the Olympics alongside seemingly similar sports such as judo and wrestling, Shestakov talked up what he says is a growing global interest.  

“You know, we are so not deprived of attention. For example, the last World Cup was broadcast live in 20 countries.

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“This is a very good indicator. Moreover, we have a contract with the Olympic channel. Consequently, the IOC is confident that the broadcast of Sambo competitions will be a success,” he said.

With the upcoming three Summer Games being held in Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles, Shestakov even picked out some icon landmarks that he believes would lend themselves as the perfect backdrop to Sambo competition.    

“In Tokyo, it would be interesting to hold a tournament in the parks of Yoyogi and Ueno, in Paris - near the Eiffel Tower, and in Los Angeles, Universal Studios or Santa Monica Pier would be perfect. If we could arrange demonstration displays there, it would be great,” he said.

While other combat disciplines have big names instantly recognizable to sports fans of any type the world over, such as MMA’s Conor McGregor, Shestakov also cited some big names in his sport that fit that bill.    

“Russia’s Marina Mokhnatkina and Denis Goltsov [are stars], France’s Luis Loran and Laure Fournier,” he said.

However, he cited the influence of big Russian MMA names Emelianenko and Nurmagomedov – both of whom formerly practiced Sambo – as helping drawing the most attention to the sport.    

Nurmagomedov, who was propelled to global fame with his defeat of McGregor last year – even previously wore a T-shirt to a 2013 weigh-in bearing the slogan: “If Sambo was easy, it would be called jiu jitsu” – a jab at the martial art that originated in Brazil and is seen as essential to UFC fighters.

“The biggest representatives of Sambo are without a doubt Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib Nurmagomedov," Shestakov said.

“We noticed an interesting trend – at major international competitions, sportsmen have appeared from different countries… everyone said they had learned about Sambo thanks to Fedor and Khabib. Those guys do quite a lot for us.

“Emelianenko goes to fights wearing the name of our sport on his clothing,” he added.

Shestakov’s infectious optimism for Sambo, coupled with continued promotion from Nurmagomedov and Emelianenko, will all help the sport in its fight to make Olympic history.