The International Olympic Committee (IOC) levied a shocking decision today as they opted to remove wrestling from the list of 25 core sports. The decision was a huge surprise, as most believed the modern pentathlon would be the sport on the chopping block. In cutting wrestling, the IOC removes a sport that has been a part of the games since their modern inception at the 1896 Olmpyics.
The committee reportedly considered various factors in the decision to cut wrestling, including TV ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy, global participation, and popularity. The IOC vote was done in secret, with no rankings revealed after the vote. Modern pentathlon (which combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running, and shooting) was considered most likely to be cut, however the committee was lobbied hard to keep the event by members of their own board.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams stated:
“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.”
This is the point where things cause wrestlers’ heads start to explode. Wrestling has been a part of the Olympic Games since 1896 and was represented by 71 nations at the London games. Some of the sports kept instead of wrestling include events like table tennis, trampoline, race walking, the aforementioned pentathlon, dressage and rhythmic gymnastics. While the athletes deserve the chance to represent their country, what makes the sports more deserving than one of the oldest sports on the planet?
I will admit that I am biased in this argument. Growing up in Atlanta, I was lucky enough to see the 1996 Olympic Games and see some wrestling, I was completely mesmerized by seeing guys like Buvasair Saitiev (arguably the greatest of all time), Alexander Karelin (pictured), Tom Brands, Bruce Baumgartner, Kendall Cross, and Kurt Angle. While it took a few more years, I ended up wrestling in high school and at the junior college level, competed in USA Wrestling events in all three styles, and I am a coach as well. Even when I was training in MMA and learning other styles, wrestling was always the basis of everything I did.
Many of the fighters in the MMA community have echoed these feelings as well, and not just those from the United States. Wrestling is one of the more prevalent sports on the planet, and while it is not always the most popular sport, it infects those that stick with it.
Olympic wrestling programs are not only contributing to wrestling’s growth, but MMA as well. I remember an interview I did with Kamal Shalorus, where he told me that wrestling in Iran was a way of life. When I was at Bellator last week, Russian fighter Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev echoed that sentiment with Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko telling the press that’s what Frodo’s home republic of Dagestan is known for. Without wrestling in the Olympics, MMA could find a short-term boost with high-level wrestlers coming over but the sport could also suffer long-term as wrestling programs suffer.
Wrestling is a sport where everything is geared towards the Olympics, it is the equivalent of soccer’s World Cup. While there are World Championships every year in wrestling, the main focus of those tournaments is to qualify for the Olympic Games. Just the chance of wrestling in the games is something wrestlers would give anything to receive. It was heartbreaking to see the reaction of the Egyptian national team when their handlers got them to the gym at the wrong time and their dreams were dashed.
The Olympics mean everything for wrestling, so do not expect the sport to go quietly. Petitions are already spring up in protest of the IOC’s decision, and while it will likely lead to nothing from the Committee, wrestling’s governing organization – FILA – is going to be leading the charge to bring the sport back to the Olympics.
Wrestling is a traditional Olympic sport and while it teaches a lot of life lessons, it is also the personification of what the Olympics are supposed to be about with 71 nations sending men and women to compete and develop their sport. Unfortunately, the Olympic Charter does not seem to matter to the IOC. As the IOC has, like many organizations, fallen victim to lobbying and nepotism.
The wrestling community can band together and hope to force change by being too loud to be ignored or, in a more realistic way to influence change, by working on a way to sell wrestling as a valuable asset to the IOC. Now that its cut, wrestling will face an uphill battle to get back in the 2020 Olympic Games. While wrestlers are used to struggling, this may be the hardest battle the sport has ever faced.