Olympics Say Goodbye to Wrestling
When my newsfeed blew up earlier this week with the announcement that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had cut wrestling from the Games, I couldn't believe it. The same group charged with preserving the Olympic spirit voted by secret ballot to eliminate a sport that has been part of the Games from the very beginning.The surprise recommendation, made Tuesday at an executive meeting in Switzerland, has rocked the wrestling world as well as fans of the Olympic Games.
Wrestling is known as the world’s oldest competitive sport. Cave drawings of wrestling date as far back as 3000 BC and the sport was part of the ancient Olympics in 708 BC. When the modern Games resumed in 1896, wrestling was one of nine sports on the program. Given the history and tradition, it’s hard to imagine why the IOC would take the knife to one of the sports most core to their identity.
Women's Freestyle Wrestling: © Imago/ZUMAPRESS.com
The IOC, however, is known for being politically and economically motivated as well as decidedly Euro-centric. They weigh all kinds of factors when making the decision about what sports to axe and what to keep including ticket sales, anti-doping policy and television ratings. For wrestling to be sacrificed in favor of revenue-generating and TV/fan friendly sports is an ironic fate for one of the Games original sports.
Women’s freestyle wrestling, introduced at the Athens Games in 2004, has become increasingly popular and the number of girls wrestling in high school and college has grown significantly in the last decade . All amateur wrestlers, men and women, regard the Olympics as the pinnacle of their sport. Without a professional league or obvious career path, their ultimate dream is winning an Olympic gold medal.
According to the IOC, wrestling can “re-apply” later this year, but the sport will now compete with seven others (baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu) battling for one spot in a revamped 2020 program. The federations of the other sports will make presentations to the IOC’s executive board in May and a decision will be made in September, when they’ll also decide whether Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo will be the host for the Games.
The last sports removed from the Olympics were baseball and softball, voted out by the IOC in 2005 and off the program since the 2008 Beijing Games. Golf and rugby will be joining the Games at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro (really? golf?)
The vote to eliminate wrestling came as a major shock after other sports, including modern pentathlon, field hockey and taekwondo, were seen as more at risk of losing out due to their low global appeal. Modern pentathlon had athletes from 26 countries in London while wrestling was represented by over 300 athletes from 71 countries. By the way, one of the IOC board members voting was Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., whose father is the current vice president of the international governing body for the modern pentathlon.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters following the Executive Board meeting:
“It was a decision to look at the core sports, what works best for the Olympic games. This was the best program for the 2020 Olympics. This is not about what’s wrong with wrestling but what is good for the Games.”
FILA, the international federation for wrestling, said in a statement that it was “greatly astonished” by the IOC executive board’s recommendation. FILA said it would work to convince the IOC “of the aberration of such decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games.”
The loss of wrestling is a huge blow to the U.S., one of the most successful countries in Olympic wrestling, winning 124 medals. The U.S had two gold medalists at last summer’s London Games: Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner. Coleman Scott added bronze along with Clarissa Chun in women’s freestyle. U.S. women have won four medals since women’s wrestling was added in 2004.
Whether or not you are a wrestling fan, it’s hard to believe that the powers that be would cut the 15,000 year-old sport in order to keep ping pong or pentathlon (no disrespect to any of those sports).