clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

International Olympic Committee Votes to Drop Wrestling From Olympics

It had been a while since the IOC had done something really stupid and hurtful. Well, not any more.

We may never see this sight again.
We may never see this sight again.
Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

This is bullshit.

Word came yesterday that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was going to be voting today on which sport would be dropped from the program for the 2020 Summer Olympics. The five sports reported to be in the most danger were badminton, wrestling, taekwondo, table tennis, and modern pentathlon. Seeing wrestling listed there was alarming, but I didn't think too much of it -- surely they wouldn't cut wrestling, one of the original Olympic sports, right? The favorite to be cut was modern pentathlon because IT'S FUCKING MODERN PENTATHLON.

So you can imagine my surprise -- and dismay -- when I awoke this morning to this:

What. The. Fuck.

Meanwhile, modern pentathlon was spared the ax. Modern pentathlon! MODERN FUCKING PENTATHLON! Can you name the five sports that comprise modern pentathlon? Can you name even three of them? The five disciplines that comprise modern pentathlon are pistol shooting, fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and 3km cross country run. I'm sure it's wildly popular among European aristocrats. The event was dreamed up by French baron (!) Pierre de Coubertin, a man who was instrumental in reviving the Olympic games in the late 19th century. (He also had a marvelous mustache.)

So how did modern pentathlon survive?

Klau$ $¢hormann, president of governing body UIPM, lobbied hard to protect his sport's Olympic status and it paid off in the end.

"W€ hav€ promi$€d thing$ and w€ hav€ d€liv€r€d," he said after Tuesday's decision. "That giv€$ m€ a grat f€€ling. It also giv€s m€ n€w €n€rgy to d€v€lop our $port furth€r and n€v€r giv€ up."

Modern pentathlon also benefited from the work of Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president who is a UIPM vice president and member of the IOC board.

"W€ w€r€ ¢on$id€r€d w€ak in $om€ of th€ $¢or€$ in th€ program ¢ommi$$ion r€port but $trong in oth€r$," $amaran¢h told the AP. "W€ play€d our ¢ard$ to the b€st of our ability and $tr€$$€d th€ po$itiv€$. Tradition is one of our $trong€$t a$$€t$, but w€ ar€ al$o a multi-$port di$¢iplin€ that produ¢€$ v€ry ¢ompl€t€ p€opl€." (emphasis added)

The "program commission report" referred to by Samaranch looked at 39 criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity. It can hardly be a surprise that modern pentathlon scored poorly on several of those criteria.

But, you know, they "stressed the positives." Like the fact that one of their biggest supporters is the son of the former IOC president. Or the fact that they "promised things," which I'm sure had nothing at all to do with bribes or special favors. Of course not. Because the IOC is above petty concepts like graft and corruption, you see.

As far as how wrestling fared in some of those criteria...

The facts are on wrestling’s side. The last time the IOC went through this process, they released their report on each sport. A few numbers for consideration (from 2009, but it’s hard to imagine too much has changed since then):

  • Wrestling has 167 active national federations. Other sports: Archery 139, equestrian 133, field hockey 122, triathlon 116, modern pentathlon 104. (Taekwondo, surprisingly, has a healthy 186.)
  • The "average minute of TV coverage" of wrestling in the 2008 Olympics was watched by 29.5 million people globally. Field hockey: 11.8 million. Fencing: 24.3 million. Badminton: 21.2 million. Team handball: 23.3 million. Sailing: 24.5 million. Triathlon: 19.4 million. Modern pentathlon: 23.1 million. Even tennis was lower: 26.1 million. (Swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting (?!) and track and field are the big draws, as you’d expect — 40 million to 65 million. Table tennis was also over 40 million, so the people complaining about "ping pong" might want to adjust their arguments.)
  • Yeah. Wrestling also featured competitors from 71 different countries at the 2012 Olympics. Modern pentathlon, in case you're wondering, had competitors from 26 different countries. That certainly looks like a sport that represents a global audience. (If you'll recall, that was one of the arguments levied against baseball and softball when they were removed from the Olympics a few years ago.)

    Alas, if Juan Antonio Samaranch, Jr. had been a vice president of FILA, the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (the acronym comes from the French version of the name, Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées), I'm sure none of this would be happening. But he's a vice president of the international governing body for modern pentathlon, so here we are. (Although, to be fair to modern pentathlon for a moment, it's a little absurd that the IOC even feels the need to enforce a draconian limit on the number of sports that can be a part of the Olympic Games, which ends up pitting sports against one another for survival... but perhaps that's an argument for another day.)

    So what next? Well, now FILA and wrestling's defenders fight back and begin to state their case. Foremost among those fighting for wrestling figures to be Dan Gable, who's already spoken out against the IOC's decision today:

    "The thing is, because of wrestling, I have a mindset that is strong. Exceptionally strong," Gable said today. "I don’t believe in the four-letter word ‘quit.’ I don’t believe in the four-letter word ‘can’t.’

    "Right now, I’m not going to change because I see an initial vote. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to fight."

    He and FILA will have a strong case to make; as noted above, several facts certainly support wrestling's inclusion in the Olympics. The problem, of course, is whether or not it will all be some Kafka-esque absurdist drama, where they're fighting an unwinnable battle against an opponent that's already made up its mind. Gable can be an incredibly persuasive speaker, but it's hard to imagine what could get the IOC decision-makers to change their mind at this point, at least as far as the 2020 Games are concerned. (If only Gable could put them all in a cradle and refuse to release them until they changed their votes.)

    The ideal solution would be to make this all a bad dream and to get wrestling restored to the 2020 Olympic Games, but a more realistic solution might be to simply stop the bleeding and make sure this is merely a blip on the Olympic radar. Of course, even that would come as small comfort to the competitors involved. The 2024 Olympic Games are a whopping 11 years away; the wrestlers who would most benefit from the renewal of wrestling in the 2024 Olympics might not even be in high school yet, let alone in NCAA or international competition. No, the sad reality of this decision is that for the current generation of wrestlers, guys as prodigiously talented as Brent Metcalf, Jordan Burroughs, Jake Herbert, Jake Varner, Jordan Oliver, Logan Stieber, Kyle Dake, David Taylor, Ed Ruth and so on, it's probably 2016 or bust for their dreams of claiming an Olympic gold medal.

    As for what the trickle-down effect of this decision might be on wrestling at the collegiate and high school levels (or younger), it's far too soon to say... but it's hard to imagine it being anything but harmful. The World Championships will still exist, but this isn't like soccer where that event (the World Cup) is vastly more prestigious and influential than an Olympic championship; an Olympic gold medal is the top of the mountain in amateur wrestling. And now the IOC has made that an impossible dream. Of course, the dream of an Olympic medal isn't the only reason people get into wrestling at the high school and collegiate level and wrestling is still (and should continue to be) an excellent foundation for MMA, a sport that continues to grow in popularity... but this will still hurt.

    On the other hand, maybe we should be congratulating the insipid IOC -- by virtue of their shameless corruption, two-bit hucksterism, and petty favoritisim, they've managed to unite the United States, Russia, and Iran behind a single issue, something that countless presidents, prime ministers, and sessions of the United Nations have failed to do. Well done. Step aside, FIFA. Hit the bricks, NCAA. Pipe down, NFL. The IOC is back to state its claim as the most corrupt, incompetent, and alienating governing body in the world of sports. Mission accomplished.