Wrestling’s Place in the Olympics Under Severe Threat

The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have voted by secret ballot to eliminate wrestling from the Olympic Games, beginning in 2020. This decision comes as a bit of a shock to this writer – and not this writer alone. I mean, wrestling is one of the few Olympic events with any real connection to the ancient games. Including both the ancient games and the modern re-incarnation of the Olympics, wrestling has been absent only once. So the decision taken by the committee has taken many a fan – of both wrestling and the Olympics themselves – by complete surprise.

Of course, the rhetoric being used here is a little exaggerated. This decision is not the IOC saying that Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling will not be present in the 2020 Games and onwards. Rather, it is that it will no longer be one of the ‘core’ 25 sports. This simply means that it will no longer be certain of a place, and will instead compete against a half-dozen other ‘candidate’ sports for a space in the Games. This simply makes it a little more difficult to ensure that we see the two leotard-clad gentlemen with a lack of neck more than made up for with an abundance of baby oil battle to be considered the big spoon.

This has understandably furrowed a few eyebrows across the pond. Both major ‘sports entertainment’ companies have come out in criticism of the IOC decision. WWE stars Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger, all of whom come from backgrounds in college grappling have spoken out against the decision. Acting the role of optimist-meets-denial, high-school grappler Rhodes insisted that he “cannot see them going forward with that”.

TNA Wrestling star Kurt Angle – a bona fide Olympic Gold medallist – is the front of their online petition to overturn the IOC decision, urging fans to sign the petition and make their feelings known to the IOC directly. What must be considered however, is not simply the fact this decision was taken, nor the professional reaction to it; what must be considered is the reasoning behind it.

Whilst the difficulty in analysing the thought process of an executive committee’s secret ballot, there are certainly wide reaching conclusions that this writer is more than happy to jump on. The fact of the matter is this: wrestling does not exactly help their case. With the bizarre introduction of the ‘ball draw’ rule in order to decide positions in a tie-break, and the silly clinch rule, leads to the disillusion of even the most committed wrestling fans in the high-school gym halls across the US. When the governing body of a sport can’t convince their own die-hard fans that their sport is being run correctly, then how can we reasonably expect them to convince the International Olympic Committee that they should remain as a legitimate centrepiece of the Olympic Games?

I, for one, would be extremely disappointed to see the IOC strip the games of one of the few links left to the games ancient heritage. Why does wrestling miss out, but badminton, the modern pentathlon and now even golf survive? The IOC will meet again in September, which provides them with a chance to overturn their decision, and with the pressure being placed upon them from all angles, and their dedication to protecting their link to the ancient games, it would not be a huge surprise if wrestling returns to the ‘The Big Show’ without ever having left.

[Alan Compton]

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