The IOC Cuts Wrestling

by Nathaniel Botwinick

You can always count on the International Olympic Committee to do the wrong thing.

IOC leaders dropped wrestling from the Olympic program on Tuesday, a surprise decision that removes one of the oldest Olympic sports from the 2020 Games.

The IOC executive board decided to retain modern pentathlon — the event considered most at risk — and remove wrestling instead from its list of 25 “core sports.”

The IOC board acted after reviewing the 26 sports on the current Olympic program. Eliminating one sport allows the International Olympic Committee to add a new sport to the program later this year.

Wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, goes back to the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.

“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “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.”

Really? Wrestling? It’s not only one of the original sports of the modern Olympics. It’s was featured in the ancient games in Greece. The rules are fairly straightforward, and the Olympics are considered the pinnacle event for the sport. Donald Rumsfeld summed up the arguments in favor of wrestling quite well in his recent letter to the IOC. If you’re wondering how wrestling was cut while unwatched sports such as the modern pentathlon survived, the answer is the usual chicanery that accompanies any decision by the IOC: “Modern pentathlon also benefited from the work of Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president who is a UIPM vice president and member of the IOC board.”

Wrestling will now compete with seven other sports (baseball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, and wushu) that are competing for the same spot at the 2020 Olympics. This will complicate the path for squash, my earlier pick for inclusion at the 2020 Olympics. However, this vote was not final; the full International Olympic Committee can overturn this decision in September. In a best-case scenario, wrestling would be granted a reprieve in September, and one of the truly unnecessary sports (e.g., canoeing) would get the boot, making room for both squash and wrestling in the 2020 Olympics.