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The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) decision to drop wrestling from the Summer Olympics is baffling, and devoid of all logic. It was made even worse by the statement with which IOC spokesman Mark Adams announced the decision: “It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the other 25 core sports.”
The way the IOC decided wrestling’s fate, too, is shocking. The 15-member executive board of the IOC voted in secret ballot; the board included nine members from Europe but not a single member from the US or from Russia — the two powerhouses of the modern Olympics. In addition, one of the members of the board is Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, the son of former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch — and the vice-president of International Modern Pentathlon Union too, a sport that was also on the IOC’s chopping board but survived. If the argument against wrestling is that it does not bring in enough television ratings, the question is whether the pentathlon would be able to get higher ratings. Also, what is it that the pentathlon, as Mr Adams put it, is “doing right” and wrestling is not? The IOC also said that some of the other criteria that played a role in its decision were global participation and popularity. Wrestlers from 71 countries participated in the 2012 London Olympics; 180 countries in the world have wrestling federations. Pentathlon? Twenty-six countries participated in London and less than 100 have pentathlon federations. This appears to be blatant favouritism.
Wrestling may not be as television-friendly a sport as running or swimming — two of the events that are included in the pentathlon. But what about horse riding, fencing or swimming? In any case, the Olympics without wrestling – which, with sprints and the discus throw, was the core of the ancient Olympic Games of classical Greece – seems meaningless. It has been part of the modern Olympics since the first games, Athens 1896. Moreover, it is a wonderfully international sport, crucial in order to ensure that the Olympics gain more and more popularity in the countries that will dominate viewership in the future. India, of course, loves wrestling; it is an integral part of South Asian culture. And 29 different countries, including India, won medals in wrestling at the London Olympics.
There is still an outside chance that wrestling might survive the bizarre functioning style of the IOC. The statement in which the IOC stated that wrestling might not make the cut for the 2020 games also said that the committee wanted to ensure that the Olympics remained “relevant to sports fans of all generations”. The IOC needs to look much harder at what is, in fact, relevant to fans. The Olympic movement has been, too often and too long, considered a fiefdom of powerful, unaccountable people. When their decisions begin to be as purposeless as this, and as likely to infuriate many fans and national associations, these people should get worried.