Why are the Olympics dumping wrestling?

Ryu Spaeth
The WeekFebruary 12, 2013
Apparently, people aren't lining up around the block to see this ancient Olympic event anymore.

If the ancient sport wants to get back into the 2020 Games, it will reportedly have to compete with wakeboarding, roller sports, and wushu

In a surprise move, the International Olympic Committee has reportedly voted to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics. The ancient sport, which has been part of the modern version of the Games since their debut in 1896, was deemed unworthy of inclusion in the 25 "core sports" that comprise the Olympic program.

The IOC made the decision after several rounds of secret balloting at the organization's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Other contenders for elimination included the modern pentathlon, taekwondo, and field hockey. IOC members used 39 criteria, "including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy, and global participation and policy," according to the Associated Press.

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Now that wrestling has been pushed to the fringes, it will have to contend with seven other sports vying for a single, final spot in the 2020 Games: Karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, wushu, and a combined bid for softball and baseball.

The IOC's decision is obviously a huge blow to the sport, whose one moment in the global spotlight comes at the Olympics. "The news from the IOC is extremely disappointing," said Colin Nicholson, the head of Britain's national wrestling program. "If wrestling is taken out of the Olympics, it will be a great disappointment as it is an extremely popular sport around the world."

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It's a loss, too, for even the most casual viewers, who may enjoy those quadrennial glimpses into one of the most intense sports in the world — cauliflower ears, groped crotches, and all. Sports like wakeboarding and squash, with their modern accouterments, don't have the stripped-down, almost pure quality of wrestling. They certainly don't have the legacy: Wrestling half the time has "Greco-Roman" in front of it, a reminder of its status as one of the original athletic tests of humankind. Indeed, an Olympics without wrestling is like an Olympics without the discus throw or gymnastics — those sports are part and parcel of what define the Olympics. 

The board, for its part, says the Olympics can't live in stasis. "This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what's right with the 25 core sports."

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The board's decision will come up for a final vote by the IOC's general assembly, but it is not expected to be overturned.

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