Wrestling is a sport as old as the ancient Olympics themselves. And when the first modern Games opened in 1896 after a 1,500-year absence, Greco-Roman wrestling was on the program.
But now, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board has slammed the sport, recommending that wrestling be dropped from the 2020 Games to make room for new sports. One reason cited was wrestling’s low television ratings.
While its understandable that Olympics officials might wish to update their list of sports, tossing out one of the originals makes no sense. More than 200 countries participate in wrestling, and the 2012 London Games featured 344 wrestlers. The recommendation is so ill-conceived that it is sparking potential alliances between some unusual rivals, such as U.S., Cuban and Iranian wrestling officials.
The sport has a long, proud tradition in the Midlands, and Midlands wrestlers, coaches and fans are right in calling the Olympic committee’s decision short-sighted.
Olympic gold medalist and former University of Nebraska wrestler Rulon Gardner summed it up well: “It’s the IOC trying to change the Olympics to make it more mainstream and more viewer-friendly instead of sticking to what they founded the Olympics on, and that was basically amateur sports.”
Wrestlers lack many of the professional opportunities that their football, basketball and baseball-playing counterparts enjoy. For them, the Olympics is the pinnacle.
University of Nebraska wrestling coach Mark Manning said throwing wrestling out of the Games would have wide ramifications. The decision “not only greatly affects our current Olympic athletes and future Olympians, but it would also damage the sport at the collegiate, high school and youth levels,” he said.
Wrestling, Manning notes, “is the sixth-most popular boys’ high school sport in the United States with more than 275,000 participants, and at the collegiate level we have sold out the NCAA Championships the past four years, so the interest and passion for the sport is widespread.”
And as Sports Illustrated reported, with state budget cuts continuing to force universities to examine their spending on athletics, “the loss of wrestling’s status as an Olympic sport will certainly do no favors when making its case for survival.” Four NCAA wrestling programs were dropped in 2011-12, the magazine said.
In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad and a team of wrestling advocates have launched a campaign to save one of the state’s favorite sports. He’s not alone. A website petition to the Olympic committee, called “letskeepwrestling.com,” had gathered nearly 18,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.
“They might have thought that wrestling was going to be an easy pass, but as you can see, there are places like this all over the world,” said Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable, one of Iowa’s most famous wrestlers. “It’s just not Iowa. There’s places like this all over the world that will generate this type of enthusiasm for the sport.”
The Olympics bureaucrats are always quick to boast about acting “in the traditions of the Olympic Movement.”
They ought to reverse their wrestling decision and continue to showcase a sport that has been part of the Games since 776 B.C. Now that would be upholding the Olympic tradition.