Tuesday, December 17, 2013


It seems that the controversy over the name of SAMBO has risen its head again this time in the USA. Britain and USA on the whole use the word SOMBO as opposed to SAMBO

The reason being was when SAMBO was introduced into Britain and the USA in the 1970's SAMBO was a derogatory name for Black People stemming from the books "The Story Little Black Sambo" also at that period a Golliwog was shown on Robertson Jam Jars, plus there was a ITV programme called "Love Thy Neighbour" which had a white and a black man living next door to each other. The white man would call the Black Man "Sambo" he in turn called the White Man "Honkey" both were meant to insult a person skin colour. Now you may have differing opinions on this particular issue but the fact remain in GB the name SAMBO was frowned upon and in the USA I believe there was a threat of legal action about the use of the name

The British Wresting Association in the 1970's was in charge of British Sambo and they came up with a compromise where they use the S sounding letter from the Cyrillic Alphabet which was a C. So SAMBO in GB became CAMBO and was pronounced as it read. Later Josh Henson the Founder of USA SAMBO/SOMBO researched the name Sambo (You can see the research below) and came up with the word SOMBO the name the USA has mostly used since then. In latter years with Josh moving away from FIAS and eventually linking SOMBO with FILA, Russian Immigrants to the USA took over the sport in the USA for FIAS and returned to its original name SAMBO. With Josh Henson and Joe Neally organising the biggest SOMBO/SAMBO event in the USA i.e. SOMBO section of the ARNOLD FESTIVAL it has brought complaints from the FIAS USA organisation who insist it should be called SAMBO. The reader may make their own judgement on this and the right for US Citizens to decide for themselves the name of the Sport

With reference to the British Sombo Federation we are in a different position, unlike in the USA where no SOMBO/SAMBO association is recognised as autonomous organisation all though I do believe the SOMBO section is recognised by the USA Olympic Wrestling Association, we in the BSF have been recognised by our Governments Sports Regulatory Body UKSPORT and all the various Home Country Sports Bodies i.e England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the Governing Body for the Sport of Sombo. Some years ago we were asked by FIAS to change the name to SAMBO the BSF contacted UKSport and SportEngland they emphatically said if we changed to SAMBO they would no longer consider us a Governing Body and worse they would not recognise SAMBO as a Sport. The BSF considered the changing of an O to A was to higher price to pay and FIAS agreed with us that is why they accept the British Sombo Federation as one of their oldest affiliated and most respected countries.

As for my own opinion I no longer consider the name SAMBO a racist term I have asked many young Black and White  people in the UK about the name and they did not know what I was talking about, all Caribbean, African and Asian Countries use the word SAMBO so if they are not offended why should we in GB/USA be offended? Yet one has to be pragmatic when one joins an organisation you accept the rules and abide by them until UKSPORT change the rules we will still be called the BRITISH SOMBO FEDERATION a compromise is to use SOMBO/SAMBO when explaining our Sport.

I have include some letters to our past Secretary and past Chairman on the Subject. Brenda Jones is now longer with us but she was great help to me and the BSF

“Sombo” is a composite style of jacket wrestling that originated in the former Soviet Union as a common form of sport wrestling for the fifteen separate republics that made up the U.S.S.R.  Sombo was also used as a means of unarmed hand-to-hand combat for soldiers, beginning in the days of Stalin, and today is practiced as a martial art as well.  The term “Sombo” is an acronym for the Russian phrase “Self-defense without weapons” (SOM-oborona Bes Orushyia).   
When the sport of Sombo was accepted as the third style of international wrestling in 1967 by FILA (the International Amateur Wrestling Federation), a unique problem arose:  How do you spell Sombo? 
Because the Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet, the letters used to spell Sombo in Russian appear to resemble the English letters C-A-M-B-O.  What looks like a “C” to an English speaker sounds like an English “S” to a Russian.  What looks like an “A” can be pronounced two ways in English: One way would be “ah” as in “raw” or “fall” (which would be the right pronunciation for Sambo).  But in English, “A” can also be pronounced like the “A” in hat or bad.  Unfortunately, the letters SAM are a common combination in English, usually with the latter, “wider” sound, as in the name Sam or Samuel.  Thus for most English speakers, the name Sam is the closest guide.  Accordingly, when you spell the word SAMBO, you get what sounds like the name Sam combined with bow (as in “bow and arrow”) -- which is not how the word is supposed to sound.  However, if you spell it SOMBO, you get the pronunciation right every time.  That is because in English an “o” in front of an “m” or an “n” is usually pronounced like the “a” in “fall” (as in the case of “dog” or “fog”, for example). 
So why do some people want to use the spelling Sambo?  To the French, the spelling SAMBO will give the right pronunciation every time, but the spelling SOMBO will not.  For them SAMBO sounds correct and hence the French spell the word that way (as do other romance language countries like Spain).  In fact, for many years, the official nameplates for the international Sombo federation at international meetings had SAMBO on one side and SOMBO on the other, representing both official languages of most international sport organizations.
 In recent years, many Russian Sombo practitioners--when writing in English--have wanted to spell the word SAMBO.  But however much their technical mastery of Sombo is to be appreciated, they are not the ultimate masters of the English language.  Do we spell Moscow as Moskva?  Of course not. 
When Sombo first was promoted by FILA beginning in the early 1970’s, the first Sombo committee chairman was Burt Jacob of Great Britain.  Jacob was afraid the spelling Sambo would impede its development, for many reasons.  However, he reasoned that since a “C” could be soft in English (as in France or city), then he could legitimately spell the word CAMBO, using a “C.”  In so doing, he could also avoid tempting people to mispronounce Sombo to sound like the name Sam…and spelling it CAMBO also avoided many derogatory implications.
 Part of Jacob’s expressed concern was that the word SAMBO has many negative connotations outside the Russian culture.  Sambo is considered a racist term in the United States, for example, and in the early 1980’s the AAU Wrestling Division was actually threatened with lawsuits over using that name!!  A chain of restaurants called “Sambos” actually went out of business under the political pressure.  For that reason alone, the spelling Sambo could even hurt the sport of Sombo in the American television market, which has become a key force in the modern world of sports and the Olympic movement.  Any sport with Olympic aspirations must be conscious of the American media market. In other English countries, the term Sambo also has negative connotations, mostly by reference to the story of “little black Sambo.”
 In Sweden, a “sambo” is a concubine, or live-in girlfriend.  Other meanings of the word Sambo around the world are less controversial, but still confusing.  Pronounce the world slightly differently, and you get a dance:  The samba. In Korea, Sambo is a well-known company name.  The spelling SOMBO, by contrast, is used only for the sport of Sombo.
 To avoid confusion, legal problems, racial accusations and rampant mispronunciation, the issue was referred by FILA to University Russian language specialists, who immediately suggested what seemed to them an obvious solution:  Spell it Sombo.  It is a common practice when transliterating from Cyrillic to English and avoids all the problems that would otherwise occur.
 The main push to spell the word Sambo in recent years has come from Russian émigrés who find using an “A” to be somehow more familiar--and insist with typical Russian resolve that they alone know best about anything concerned with a Russian sport.  While scholars and the more educated Russians have had no problem with the spelling Sombo, Sombo coaches have not always been scholars.
 While some claim “Sambo” is the original spelling, the fact of the matter is that once Sombo became an international sport, all three spellings have been used:  Sombo, Sambo, Cambo.  Of the three, however, the spelling Sombo is most likely to not be mispronounced and has no negative implications, unlike like the other spellings.

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