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Wrestling: Nadia Sapphire was 'harassed and groomed'

By Kate Morgan
BBC Wales sports news correspondent

Published
media captionNadia Sapphire was "harassed and groomed" as a teenager

"Everyone knew when I turned 16... they all pulled things out [of a hat] to see who would get to sleep with me first."

Nadia Sapphire from Cardiff began wrestling when she was 14. At 15 she was drawn into an intimate relationship with an older wrestler. By 16 she was "too anxious" to continue training in Wales.

She is one of a growing number of female wrestlers speaking out about abuse and misogyny in the industry.

Wrestling fan and Pontypridd MP Alex Davies-Jones has started a parliamentary inquiry to investigate its lack of regulation and governance.

'I felt loved, special'

"Looking back, I can see I was obviously harassed… and I was groomed," says Nadia.

"[Back] then I had all these guys messaging me in Wales - if anything I felt loved, I felt special."

image copyrightExposure Wrestling
image captionNadia says at first the attention made her feel special

Nadia, from Cardiff, now 29, fell in love with wrestling from a young age and had ambitions to become a top UK wrestler.

After joining a training school as a teenager, she says she received numerous messages from fellow wrestlers - some teenagers themselves but others 10 to 15 years older.

She says low self-esteem meant she was initially flattered by the attention but after becoming "sexually involved" with a wrestler in his twenties, she was left "embarrassed" that her reputation had been tarnished.

"Even though I was underage... I was a 'ring rat' which is a term that's used in wrestling a hell of a lot... it's like a groupie," she explained.

Nadia said she felt like there was no-one she could speak to inside or outside the sport.

"I felt like I couldn't go to my mum because she would have stopped me wrestling... and like the people in wrestling I didn't want to say to them I'm being called a ring rat because I'd be scared they'd believe it".

Nadia is one of many female wrestlers who joined the SpeakingOut campaign this summer.

'Truly harrowing'

image copyrightExposure Wrestling
image captionNadia says wrestlers "pulled things out of a hat" to decide who would sleep with her at 16

It is described as the wrestling industry's MeToo moment with many sharing their personal experiences online.

Ms Davies-Jones said she saw the "horrendous stories" on social media and wanted to use her position to help.

She has now launched a parliamentary inquiry to find out "how we can best improve the industry to make it better, safer".

The MP says she has been "overwhelmed" with the response.

"It's truly shocking - some of the stories we've heard are from women as young as 13, 14 who were threatened with rape and sexual violence if they wanted to wrestle," she said.

"We heard stories of male wrestlers competing to see who would be the first to take a female wrestler's virginity for example - truly harrowing tales."

media captionFemale wrestlers explain why they're #SpeakingOut about abuse

Ms Davies-Jones, who is co-chairwoman of the group, said she did not want to "pre-empt" the inquiry but the evidence suggests a regulatory governing body for the industry is needed.

"I think the problem we've got with wrestling is that it falls in that grey area... it's not classed as a sport, it's not really classed as a performance... and it's been left to run itself," she explained.

The MP said people from all aspects of the industry had contacted the inquiry.

In the wake of the SpeakingOut movement, several promoters and training schools in Wales have voiced their support for the female wrestlers affected and called for an overhaul of safeguarding in the industry.

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Some UK promoters also paused their lives shows.

Progress Wrestling said: "We've all got to be great for this industry to work and to prevent another SpeakingOut movement happening. Because if we're on the same level, we're on the same page, it's going to be safer for everyone."

Revolution Pro Wrestling chief executive Andy Quildan said it wanted "an independent body and we want to be held accountable".

"British wrestling needs to focus on the word 'professional' in professional wrestling. In terms of fundamentally changing people's mindsets it's a change that needs to be made from the grassroots up," he said.

For Nadia, her safe place was finding a new training school in Swindon when she was 16.

She is now back home in Wales but still feels "anxious" about training here.

"My wrestling career is nearly over now... I'm not going to go to the places I wanted to but if this can help other girls who want to pursue wrestling in the future and if this can change something, I may as well speak about it."

Information and advice is available from the BBC Action Line

Related Topics

  • Sexual harassment
  • #MeToo campaign
  • Rhondda
  • Professional wrestling
  • Pontypridd
  • Cardiff

More on this story

  • Women's football: Prejudice & abuse 'major issues' - Fifpro

  • Sexual abuse in British wrestling