Wrestling with the I.O.C.: a short-sighted, tragic decision

And, rest assured, it is tragic. In 2012, in London, 71 countries sent wrestlers to the Games, with 29 winning medals. Wrestling doesn’t require a rink, a pool, or a stadium, it requires two willing participants and a mat.

Stunned; stunned, flabbergasted, and fit to be tied — this was my reaction to the International Olympic Committee’s recent decision to drop wrestling as an Olympic sport. Wrestling; not ping-pong, synchronized ribbon-twirling, or badminton, WRESTLING.

The decision, made by secret ballot of the I.O.C.’s 15-member “executive board” (in the gladiator capital of Lausanne, Switzerland), lumps wrestling in (if you aren’t already, please sit) with: rollerblading, sport-climbing, squash, wakeboarding, and washu (don’t ask), as sports falling shy of Olympic standards. Interesting, because I don’t recall rollerblading’s mention at the ancient Greek games (708 B.C.), and last I checked, wakeboarding was 180 sanctioning bodies shy of wrestling’s importance in the global community.

Of course, why embrace facts — and the raw purity of sport — when “telegenic digestibility” is the prevailing standard? According to I.O.C. spokesman, Mark Abrams: “The vote is part of the process of renewing and renovating the program of the Olympics. We want to ensure that the Games remain relevant to sports fans of all generations.”

So, wrestling isn’t “relevant to all generations.” Makes sense, if you’re Euro-castrati bent on socially engineering athletics to suit tastes and not tradition. Wrestling — the oldest sport known to man — is practiced by Individuals, the consummate gladiator engagement as ancient as the anthropogenic urge to compete. Wrestlers, the world’s best conditioned athletes, are arguably the hardest working, and the sport in which they participate stands above all sports in what it requires of participants. There is, for wrestlers, no million dollar payday at the end of the line, no cereal box and love-in on “The Today Show” set. For amateur athletes whose personal zenith begins and ends with the playing of The National Anthem before the entire planet, wrestling is the ultimate Olympic sport, the definition of the Olympic Spirit embodied in the anonymity of its toil, the endless hours of blood, sweat, and tears. To remove wrestling from the Games is perverse to their meaning, for it removes the very essence of “dedicated amateurism.” The Olympics without wrestling is like Beethoven without strings — something beautiful is gone… something marvelous. Indeed, the sporting world will be worse for the decision, if in fact this tragedy takes place.


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