Grappling with the IOC
Elimination of wrestling from Olympic Games damages the future of the sport
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 21:02
The International Olympics Committee is currently wrestling with an Olympic-sized problem.
Last week, the executive board of the IOC held a vote and made the decision to eliminate wrestling from the Summer Games beginning in 2020. The 26 sports were carefully reviewed in order to remove one and add another later in the year, and in a shocking decision, wrestling was given the boot.
“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the 25 core sports.”
While it’s all well and good to update the program, this was a poor judgment move on behalf of the IOC. Wrestling is much bigger than the committee thinks it is, and eliminating it from the Games would be completely damning to the sport.
Now wrestling will join a list of seven other sports vying for an Olympic spot, including baseball/softball (which have been off the program since the 2008 Beijing Games), karate, roller sports, squash, wakeboarding, sport climbing and wushu.
After months of evaluation and deliberation, most people expected that the modern pentathlon would be the one to get cut. Modern pentathlon – a sport that combines fencing, shooting, horse riding, swimming and running – was created in 1896 by the founder of the modern Olympics. In recent years, it’s been considered outdated, has lacked global popularity and has only a small base of competitors.
Yet, wrestling is getting cut – a sport that isn’t exactly without a lengthy timeline or reasonable popularity. It was introduced to the Olympics back in 708 B.C. and became a focus in the modern Games when they began in 1896.
And it has a huge force behind it.
This is not a controversy contained to one corner of the globe – people from all over the world are outraged by the decision. Yesterday in Tehran, Iran, members of teams attending the World Cup Tournament protested the ruling by lying on their mats in a moment of silence. Bulgarian Wrestling Federation President Valentin Yordanov reacted to the ruling by sending back his 1996 Olympic gold medal. In the United States, wrestlers created the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling and lawmakers also began a campaign to try and convince the IOC to change its decision.
It seems like wrestling is currently the unifier of the world.
Wrestling advocates are going to have to fight hard to keep their sport in the Games, though, especially because they have to appeal what Bloomberg refers to as “a self-recruited club of tin-pot emperors presiding over the greatest monopoly in all of sports.”
Among the IOC board members, for example, is Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., current vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union. Doesn’t it seem strange on the board of the Olympics there is a member with major influence (Samaranch Jr. is the son of the former IOC president) who is one of the leaders of the sport that was supposed to get eliminated?
What is unfortunate and important for the IOC to remember is there is little left for wrestling without the aspiration of being an Olympian. Wrestling, for many, has been a path to college, but through the past two years, the sport was the most often dropped by NCAA schools, leaving the future of wrestling in the hands of high schools and the Olympic Games. Without a spot in the Games, the idea of, “Wow, I could become the best in my country or even the world” is gone. Where does wrestling have to go from there?