You would think the committee that rules over a sporting event that can be traced back to 776 B.C. would be a little more conscious of history. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The International Olympic Committee opted to drop wrestling from the summer games.
The secret ballot decision made by the 15-member Olympic committee has already been widely criticized, as wrestling is considered one of the oldest competitive sports. In fact, the sport made its first appearance at the Olympic Games in 708 B.C.
If the ruling is not reversed, the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016 will host the final freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling Olympic competitions. Despite a host city not yet being named, 2020 would become the first Olympiad to not feature wrestling in more than 2700 years of competition.
The focus on television may ultimately be wrestling’s undoing, as televised sports focus more on stars and sports that are visually appealing. The physicality and strategy of the sport does not necessarily translate well through the television screen.
Though “unsexy” visually, wrestling takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Not to mention that a gold medal at the Olympics is considered the absolute top of the mountain for a high-level grappler. This is very different from sports like basketball where there is the NBA Championship every season or soccer’s World Cup. Many wrestlers train from a young age and pour out their blood, sweat and tears just for a shot at the games. Taking that incentive away would definitely hurt the sport.
The lack of “stars” like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens is another reason for the Olympic committee dropping wrestling.
However, just 13 years ago, one of the biggest stories to come out of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney took place on the mat. It was then when the virtually unknown Rulon Gardner defeated Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin, who had never lost in 15 years of international competition.
In that moment, Gardner became a household name as he put an end to the Russian’s streak of three consecutive gold medals and seven world titles.
Stories like Gardner’s are what makes the Olympics so great and such a spectacle. If the sport of wrestling was dropped by the Olympics previously in the television era, we may have never witnessed the greatness of Gardner. The fact that a moment like that is still talked about today proves that there can be a “star factor” in the sport.
It is also interesting to note all the peculiar events that will continue on as Olympic sports. For instance, athletes involved in table tennis, fencing and synchronized swimming will still get to compete for the gold in their sports. It’s a bit unsettling that the athletes that compete in such a physically demanding and intense sport with a rich history such as wrestling won’t be able to compete for that same gold medal.
Additionally, wrestling should always have a place in the Olympics because it is a global sport. Since the beginning of the “modern” Olympics in 1896, 29 different countries have won medals in the sport. That goes to show more of an even distribution of talents in the event around the world.
Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world (even considered to be the oldest) and is so ingrained in the fabric of the Olympic games that it would be a travesty if it were excluded from the competition. The International Olympic Committee should take into account the background of the sport and reconsider their stance, or the sport with so much history can end up history itself.