The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is being besieged by athletes, critics and Greek officials for its decision to drop wrestling, one of the premier events of the ancient and modern games in favor of sports it thinks can draw more and younger viewers as it fights for an audience during an Internet age of competition.
The IOC – which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland and not Greece, home of the Olympics – has moved in recent years toward events, not sports, such as synchronized swimming and gymastics involving women twirling ribbons.
It said it wanted the Rio De Janeiro games in 2016 to be the last at which wrestling would be held but now may reconsider in the face of savage reaction that it has given away the tradition of the games in favor of ratings and to make more money.
The Greek Olympic Committee (HOC) urged the IOC to reverse its decision regarding the sport that was practiced at the ancient Games and was part of the first edition of the modern Olympics in 1896. “This is undoubtedly a decision against the history of the Olympics and of sports in general,” the HOC said in a statement, according to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini.
The IOC holds its Olympic torch-lighting ceremony for the modern Games in ancient Olympia, meters from the gymnasium used by wrestlers in ancient Greece. “There needs to be a reconsideration of this decision after careful study,” the HOC said.
The website Hellas Frappe http://hellasfrappe.blogspot.gr, has begun a petition drive trying to convince the IOC to reverse the decision. “Greece just received yet another blow from the International Olympic Committee against its history and culture. Our nation gave the world the Olympic games and this global committee is making a mockery out of the whole event,” it said.
The decision has infuriated athletes, officials and fans around the world. Wrestling has given the Olympics over the years some of its greatest moments, such as American collegian Dan Gable winning his weight class at the 1972 games in Munich without giving up a point, and another American, Rulon Gardner, beating the seemingly invincible Russian heavyweight Alexander Karelin in the 2000 Games in Sydney.
“We knew even before whichever sport will not be included would lead to criticism from followers of that sport,” IOC President Jacques Rogge told reporters. “I had contact with the FILA (international wrestling federation) President and we agreed to meet at the first opportunity.
“They have reacted well to this disheartening news. They vowed to adapt the sport, to fight to be included in 2020,” he said, according to a report from Reuters.
Juan Antonio Samaranch Junior, both an executive board member and a modern pentathlon vice-president, said wrestling didn’t deserve to be kept in the Olympics despite its tradition. “I am very sorry for wrestling as it is a sport I respect,” the son of a former IOC president, told reporters. “I cannot be surprised by the reaction because any sport would have created the same reaction.”
Rogge said the vote to eliminate wrestling was not a vote to eliminate wrestling because it will still be in the Rio games and that the decision might be re-examined in the face of the hostile reaction.
The IOC’s 15-member executive board, which voted to drop the sport without explaining why, said a final decision would be taken at an OC session in September in Buenos Aires. The IOC wants to change events to reach a younger audience and keep events deemed more TV-worthy and not based on their athletic interest or tied to the ancient games.
The vote prompted an instant wave of protest and anger from the sport’s global community with FILA calling it an aberration, petitions launched with the United States, the White House and on-line wrestling support groups signing up thousands of supporters. India’s government said on Wednesday the decision was “unfortunate and shocking” and it would seek the support of other countries where wrestling is popular to help the sport remain an Olympic discipline.
“These reactions, they are quite normal,” IOC Vice President Thomas Bach told reporters. “This would have happened with any decision. You have to find the right balance between tradition and progress. This was a decision about core sports and nothing more,” he said to eliminate one sport.
The IOC’s executive board will meet in St. Petersburg in May to decide which of eight candidate sports, including wrestling, will be put forward to win the spot left vacant for the 2020 Games. It will then put its recommendation for the 25 core sports and the new entry to a vote at its session in Argentina.
“It was always going to be a painful decision,” IOC member and head of the organization’s finance commission Richard Carrion, also a potential Presidential candidate, told Reuters. “No matter what we do, it will be criticized by someone,” said Puerto Rican Carrion, whose country won a silver medal in wrestling at the London 2012 Olympics, one of two medals overall.
The next step is for the IOC Executive Board to recommend a sport for the final spot in the 2020 Olympics. Wrestling will be considered for the position along with seven other sports. This recommendation happens in May in St. Petersburg, Russia. Then, the next step is for the entire International Olympic Committee to vote on the final program for the 2020 Olympics, which occurs in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.