The wrestling world was left in a state of shock after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made a surprise recommendation in Switzerland on Tuesday to drop the sport from the 2020 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. Women’s freestyle wrestling debuted at the Athens Games in 2004 and the number of girls wrestling in high school and college has grown significantly in the last decade . For wrestlers, who don’t have a professional league, the Olympics are the pinnacle of their sport. So it’s hard to imagine why the IOC would take the knife to one of the sports most core to their identity
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.
The vote to eliminate wrestling came as a major shock after other sports, including modern pentathlon 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 71 countries.
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). Sure, it was a business decision but really? Now wrestling will have to compete with softball (don’t get me started) for a chance to be included in future Olympics.
How out of touch is the IOC? If you’re mad about the decision to cut the oldest sport in the Olympics, join others online to #saveolympicwrestling.