No wrestling in Olympics? Unreal
In a bureaucratic decision that ranks right up there on the “stupid and unneeded mistake” scale, along with New Coke and Napoleon invading Russia, the International Olympic Committee voted on Tuesday to drop wrestling from the Olympic program in the 2020 Summer Games, tossing away a constant of the modern Olympics since the ancient Greek Games were revived in 1896.
On the surface, this is simply a dumb, shortsighted decision, based on fleeting things like television ratings.
But deeper down, there’s a stench of something unsavory here. It feels like another politically motivated decision by the most political organization in sports.
Consider the factors that went into the IOC voting wrestling out from a final group that included modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey, according to The Associated Press:
• The vote was held by secret ballot.
• IOC president Jacques Rogge did not vote.
• Modern pentathlon, the sport considered most at risk of being dropped from the Games (and a far less popular sport than wrestling), had a huge lobbying effort to keep its sport. “We have promised things and we have delivered,” the president of modern pentathlon’s governing body, Klaus Schormann, said Tuesday.
• Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president, lobbied to keep modern pentathlon over wrestling. He also happens to be the vice president of the international governing body for modern pentathlon, and a member of the IOC board.
Add all those factors up and the IOC’s decision to drop wrestling feels more like a Tammany Hall decision made in a smoky back room than a decision by an organization that pretends to stand for everything right and pure in the sports world.
“Something’s underhanded here, and I don’t like it,” Scott Casber, who hosts a nationally syndicated television and radio show on wrestling, told FOXSports.com. “It just cries out 'Dirty player' to me. How can you take a sport as weak and ill-conceived as modern pentathlon and pick it instead of wrestling? I’m just heartbroken over this whole thing.”
The America wrestling world erupted in anger in defense of a sport that’s brought the United States 125 Olympic medals over its history. Both “IOC” and “Olympics” began trending on Twitter, and there weren’t many congratulatory tweets in there.
“It's not over yet. We will keep fighting to save the sport we love. Don't stop dreaming and don't stop believing,” tweeted Jordan Burroughs, who won wrestling gold at the 2012 Games. Bruce Braley, a congressman from the prominent wrestling state of Iowa, tweeted, “Outrageous decision by @IOCMedia @Olympics to drop Wrestling from the Olympics. One of @Olympics oldest sports — absurd.”
Dan Gable, who won gold in the 1972 Munich Games and is one of America’s most recognizable wrestlers, told The Des Moines Register he plans to fight the decision before September’s final vote by the IOC determines whether wrestling will officially be excluded from the 2020 Games. Eight sports, now including wrestling, will be applying for a single opening in 2020. The other sports are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.
You read that correctly: Wushu, a sport you’ve probably never heard of. (It’s a martial art, hugely popular in China. But still.)
It’s heartening to hear that the IOC is considering replacing one of the world’s first combat sports, a sport that was part of the ancient Olympics, with wakeboarding, a sport more fit for the X Games than the Olympic Games. It’s wonderful that wrestling will be out but sports with much more ancient Olympic tradition will be in — sports like table tennis, which first entered the Olympic lexicon in 1988, or taekwondo, first in the Games in 2000.
It’s fantastic that the IOC is ignoring so many iconic Olympic moments that wrestling has brought us: Gable’s perfect Summer Olympics in 1972 where he didn’t surrender a single point, Dave Schultz’s gold medal in 1984 in Los Angeles, Aleksandr Karelin’s three-Olympic streak of gold medals in Greco-Roman that was broken in 2000 by American Rulon Gardner — staging one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history. And last summer, when Burroughs predicted he’d win a gold medal, won his gold, and then, moments after beating his Iranian opponent, hugged the Iranian and smiled for photographs with him, a rare moment of unity between the two countries.
“We’re going to fight this,” Kurt Angle, who provided another stirring Olympic wrestling moment with his gold medal in 1996, told FOXSports.com on Tuesday. “They can’t just drop it. They’re keeping badminton and that sport where you jump on a trampoline, and they’re dropping wrestling. It’s just crazy. I don’t know what this world is coming to. Things are changing.”
It’s true: Things are changing. Wrestling doesn’t garner the TV ratings of, say, beach volleyball. Mixed-martial arts has exploded in popularity in the past 20 years and is hoping to get into the Olympics itself at some point, and that’s a sport with much in common with wrestling. Wrestling in America has had a mess of a national governing body in recent decades, though it appears to have gotten back on track and is now giving a $250,000 award to American gold medalists.
Things might be changing. That doesn’t mean we should run roughshod over tradition. The IOC’s decision makes no sense outside of the politically charged climate where the IOC lives.
Shame on them all.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.