Created on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 01:47 Written by Donnie Tasser / Staff Writer
The International Olympic Committee made a baffling decision on Tuesday when it voted the sport of wrestling out of its “core” group of sports for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Considering wrestling is one of the original Olympic sports in both senses — written records detail its inclusion in the Olympics held in ancient Greece and it has been included in every modern Olympic Games since they resumed in 1896 — I find this decision to be a travesty.
Let me first disclose my bias: I am a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s wrestling team, so naturally, this decision hits close to home. While the Olympics do not appear to be in my future, it was one of only two potential paths the best collegiate wrestlers could choose if they wanted to continue to compete — the other option being mixed martial arts. But I cannot begin to comprehend why wrestling was axed over several other very questionable and, in my mind, less deserving athletic events.
This is not the first time I have been stunned by the IOC’s decision-making process.
In 2004, it decided to discontinue Olympic baseball and fast-pitch softball — two sports that I also believe to be more than worthy of inclusion in the world’s most prestigious athletic showcase. Meanwhile, sports such as equestrian, sailing, badminton, table tennis, golf and canoeing all remain Olympic sports.
According to an ESPN article, wrestling was voted out of a final group that included modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey in a vote of “39 categories including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity. With no official rankings or recommendations contained in the report, the final decision by the 15-member board was also subject to political, emotional and sentimental factors.”
These political, emotional and sentimental factors were no doubt in play when the decision was made to keep modern pentathlon — the event that was previously thought to be next on the chopping block — over wrestling. Modern pentathlon, which features archery, fencing, swimming, horse riding, running and shooting, has been criticized for being outdated and having a small world following. But Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM) — modern pentathlon’s governing body — was one of the 15 voting members on the IOC board. The IOC board has faced criticism for corruption and taking bribes in the past, notably during Juan Antonio Samaranch Sr.’s time as IOC president.
While “a relatively unfounded accusation of corruption” might be a bit much to describe this shocking move by the IOC, I and many others across the globe fail to grasp the logic behind the move.
Modern pentathlon is modern only in name; the event was created to simulate the skills of a cavalry officer. The reported worldwide participation of modern pentathlon — around 5,000 participants — is nearly doubled by the participation of wrestling in the state of Pennsylvania alone (9,900).
Let that sink in for a second.
Wrestling is also much more popular worldwide; it is an extremely popular sport in the Eastern Bloc countries, Russia and the Middle East, and it completely dwarfs the following of a majority of sports remaining on the Olympic bill.
UIPM president Klaus Schormann claimed in an Associated Press article that modern pentathlon had tradition on its side, completely ignoring that wrestling predates shooting pistols and fencing by nearly 2,000 years.
Wrestling also arguably boasts the biggest upset in Summer Olympics history — American Rulon Gardner upset Russian Alexander Karelin in the Greco-Roman heavyweight finals during the 2000 Olympics in Athens. Karelin was a three-time gold medalist, had been undefeated for 13 years in a row, had not given up a point in six years and had such colorful nicknames as “The Russian Bear” and “The Experiment.” Gardner was a pudgy, one-time NCAA All-American from Nebraska. Gardner beat Karelin.
Can anyone remember a moment like this in modern pentathlon?
“I think this is a really stupid decision,” Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said in a New York Times article. “It was in the ancient Olympics. It has been in the modern Olympics since 1896. In London, 29 different countries won medals. This is a popular sport.”
Wrestling’s tradition, intense competition and high participation levels across the globe should have been enough to keep it safe — at least while sports such as “modern” pentathlon are around.