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Who runs International Sombo

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FIAS Letter to Martin Clarke


Interview by Matthew Banks

Martin receives Grandmaster Award 1991

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Who runs International Sombo?


The British Sombo Wrestling team have returned from the Tikomirov led FIAS world Sambo Championships held in Siberia. Our representative on the FIAS Board is BSF Chairman Scotsman Robin Hyslop. He has informed the BSF that this particular FIAS has changed its name to WSF.


So what are all this initials FIAS = Federation International Amateur Sombo, WSF = World Sambo Federation, BSF = British Sombo Federation.


In 1985 the International Sambo community asked to breakaway from FILA (International Wrestling Federation) FILA agreed and Mr Fernando Compte formed FIAS. FIAS was recognised by GIASF (International General Assembly for Sports Federations). Everything was running quite smoothly for the first few years, Mr Compte organised some marvellous tournaments and the Soviet Union kept up a regular supply of Sombo jackets and Boots. The first hiccup was when Mr Compte and the General secretary Frenchman Mr Labrouse had a disagreement. Mr Lebrouse went on to form a rival body, which is now defunct. With the fall of communism the trouble really started for Sombo.


You will notice I use the word Sombo rather then Sambo. As far back as the mid 70’s when Sombo was part of the Wrestling organisation, the word Sambo caused the English speaking countries a problem, as Sambo was a slang term referring to coloured people. In GB many people complained that the word Sambo was ridiculing them, in fact a cartoon appeared with two Black men wrestling with the caption “ Try Sambo Wrestling” the Sambo sub committee of the British Amateur Wrestling Association agreed to change the name to Cambo (C in the Russian alphabet is pronounced like an S) I was actually present at that meeting as was my father. Mean while in the USA threats had been made against the US Sambo group that they would be sued if they keep using the name. Josh Henson the US FIAS rep and the founder of Sambo in the USA investigated the pronunciation of the word and found that Sombo was nearer to the original Russian pronunciation. FIAS agreed that when referring to Sambo in the English language it would be called Sombo. It seems strange that in this ridiculous age of Political Correctness where you can get sued for nearly anything we have group of people that want to revert to the word SAMBO!!



When Communism fell it was like the “Night of the Long Knives” all Sombo Officials who were with the old Soviet Union Sambo were thrown out of their positions and in came a lot of new people. Without acception none were of any experience or quality hence the drop in standard in Refereeing and officiating in International Sombo. Each country from the old Soviet Union formed its own Sambo Federation with all new officials, some of whom saw it as a business opportunity to have contacts with the West.


The problem with these countries they had no concept of true democracy, let alone understand why you needed to abide by a constitution. The British take there constitution very seriously every small club has one whether they be the Women’s Institute or a Football Club, in fact the Sports Council scrutinise all governing bodies constitutions very thoroughly. These constitutions are there to protect the members.


Because of this lack of understanding of the democratic process by the ex soviet block, that we had the ridiculous situation where we had two groups claiming to be FIAS.


How did this happen:


At the World Champions in 1993 in Russia an Executive meeting of FIAS was organised, as was the common practise at all World Championships. While the meeting was in progress a delegation of the all the ex soviet nations suddenly appeared and stormed into the meeting demanding an election. This was obviously a prearranged affair. FIAS President Josh Henson tried in vain to explain that the constitution must be abided by. One it was not election year, Two only paid up members were entitled to vote and to be accepted as a member you had to apply with a constitution and be accepted by FIAS, which none of them had done. This did not stop a farce of an election, which the majority of legitimate countries were forced to participate in. At the time I called them all cowards for not sticking up for there rights and told the Ex Soviet Countries that they replaced one dictatorship with another, giving a Nazi salute in the process something PRAVDA reported with delight. As Treasurer of FIAS I was warned that unless I handed over all the FIAS money I would find it difficult leaving the country, needless to say us English do not take kindly to threats, I left the country on time with the money which I released to the legal FIAS President.


On hindsight I regret what I did those countries who capitulated were rightly frightened, Russia today is not the safest place to be can you imagine what it was like

Just after the fall of communism. Sorry to say I am no diplomat maybe if I was not so English and believed in a sense of fair play things would be different.


Why bring all these old wounds to the surface again, well it seems that at long last some common sense has come into play the Russian led FIAS has agreed to stop using the name FIAS and they have become the World Sambo Federation. Although the Russian led FIAS have produced a letter saying that they are the GAISF recognised body, when you check the web site of GAISF you will find Sambo/Sombo not listed. So with two international bodies each can put representations forward to who should be recognised.


My position as Chairman of the BSF made it impossible for me to carry on as FIAS Treasurer I resigned in 1994. As chairman of the BSF I had to look after the interest of my members. The Josh Henson led FIAS had the best run championships in pleasant venues but they did not have the quality of Players, on the other side most of the Tikhomirov FIAS events were in rather grim and austere venues but they did have the best players. By joining both organisations the BSF had the best of both worlds. I had been to the Soviet Union several times so I did not want to deprive BSF members the right to compete against the best in the world even though I have no wish to travel there again.


In 2000 I decided to step down as BSF Chairman my strong beliefs had upset many International Sombo politicians and was affecting the BSF relationship on the International scene. Brenda Jones took over sadly she did not have much time to make impact as she died in February 2001. Scotsman Robin Hyslop now leads the BSF. The rest of the World can learn a lot from the BSF although a small organisation it runs smoothly abiding by the constitution and its strength is in the fact that in the last 18 months it has had nearly a complete change of EC members. It has a Scottish, English and N Ireland Federations plus fighters from Wales.


I have taken on the job as Chairman of  the English Sombo Federation, and I will continue to promote Sombo Wrestling, CombatSombo and CombatSombo Wrestling. As for International Sombo politics that I am pleased to say is well and truly over.


Both FIAS and the WSF have lot to do to promote Sombo to get it back to where it was in the 80’s. Lets try and forget the politics and start thinking about getting a regular supplies of Jacket’s and boots, how about educational videos, what about professional World Sombo video tapes, Referee manuals.


The best of luck to both organisations I have learnt my lesson I am staying the middle from now on.


Martin Clarke

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