When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced last Tuesday that it was dropping wrestling from the Olympic Games in 2020, I started to wonder if they were just trying to wind us sportswriters up. I mean seriously, folks, wrestling? One of the few sports that we can be more or less certain the ancient Greeks included in the original Olympiads? It’s not called Greco-Roman for nothing.
As much as current IOC President Jacques Rogge might have ingratiated himself with me after flattering my entire country at last year’s summer games in London, waxing lyrical about Britain’s role in sporting history, it’s hard not to see the insanity in this decision.
Technically it’s not yet entirely over for wrestling, as it now joins a shortlist of seven other sports — from wushu to wakeboarding — looking to be added in 2020 as an additional event, but it is far from certain which of those might make it.
According to the IOC, the exact makeup of the Games is reviewed after each Olympiad in an effort to ensure the tournament remains relevant to fans. And sure, maybe wrestling isn’t the biggest crowd pleaser, but didn’t the Olympics used to be about this amateur spirit? When was it ruled purely by money and popularity?
Also, I’d really like someone to explain to me how some of the more bizarre events are considered better value than wrestling. I honestly don’t know anyone — or at least not a single person I know will openly admit to this — who cares about speed walking. In a nutshell, this “sport” involves people trying to get from point A to point B without running. Since biomechanically that doesn’t make any sense, in the races I’ve seen, the leaders usually get disqualified.
Back in 2000, I was lucky enough to visit Sydney during the XXVII Olympiad, and my brother and I managed to get tickets into the Olympic Stadium on one of the lower-key athletics days. One of the highlights of that experience was the final of the women’s 20-kilometer race walk, but not in a good way.
Over the Games, Australians were happily cheering on any other Australian, so when Jane Saville took the lead in this race — after the original frontrunner was disqualified — the atmosphere in the stadium, where the crowd was watching the action on the big screens, began to build. As Saville approached the entrance to the main arena, where she would need to complete just one lap to take gold, even cynical old me was getting excited.
But then she never emerged from the tunnel onto the track. Saville had been disqualified just yards from making her big entrance. Bemused, the crowd fell silent. It was pretty funny.
The setup of the Games, though, ensures that we will still get to “enjoy” speed walking. The sport that is broadly titled “athletics” groups together everything from sprinting to race walking. Viewed in that way, it becomes harder to kick out the “sport” of speed walking, because that would take with it, as a serious casualty, the 100-meter final. Wrestling, meanwhile has no such safety in numbers.
Whatever. If popularity and money were really all that the IOC cared about, we’d have a very different Games. Why not add in American football — the Super Bowl always gets a good crowd — and maybe Formula 1 — cyclists and equestrians already bring wheels and horsepower to the Olympics anyway.
Though I can’t remember back to when this was a truly amateur festival of sport, I thought the Olympic Games were supposed to be about more than just money, and maybe even more than pure popularity. It lies somewhere between the ancient Greek tournament, including sports like running and wrestling, and a chance for all the smaller sports out there, such as table tennis and taekwondo, to gain some honor and recognition. It was never a place for any sport in which the Olympics wouldn’t be the pinnacle of that discipline.
What happens now to wrestling, I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine that golf, which is being added for the Rio 2016, has been hurting that much by not being included, or that it will gain substantially by being an Olympic sport. Real wrestling — not that fake WWE trash — however, doesn’t get on TV very often and isn’t an industry worth tens of billions of dollars. Losing the biggest prize in a minor sport, the biggest recruiting tool, could be devastating.
Tom Taylor can fight for wrestling, as long as he doesn’t take away beach volleyball. To become signature No. 2 on Tom’s petition, email him at tom.taylor “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.