In a move that seems to defy it's own motto of "Faster, Higher, Stronger," the International Olympic Committee recommended today that one of its original sports—wrestling—be dropped from the Summer Games in 2020.
And when we say one of the "original" Olympic sports, we don't mean that it began with the founding of the modern Olympic Games in 1896. (Though it was at those Olympics and every one since 1904.) We mean the original Olympics, in Ancient Greece, when all they did was run, throw things, and—in the ultimate test of strength—pin each other to ground. Wrestling is one of the oldest and most widely played sports in human history, requiring no equipment, fancy arenas, or special skills, and has been practiced in some form by pretty much every culture on Earth. But the ICO would rather give wakeboarding a try.
Yes, wakeboarding is one of seven new sports being recommended as possible replacements, along with competitive rock climbing, karate, roller blading, squash, and wushu, another martial art. One final option is the return of baseball and softball, which already had their shot at Olympic glory and were booted because they were too boring. (Only a handful of countries even fielded teams, and American dominance of softball was just too sad to watch.)
The knock against wrestling is that scoring is confusing to non-fans and highly subjective, and matches between top competitors can sometimes devolve in slow and plodding clutches, where not much happens. But I defy any average sports fan to explain the scoring in taekwondo—let alone even follow to a high-level fencing match. That is not the point of the Olympics, however. They were created to celebrate competition in all its forms, at a (mostly) amateur level, and the Olympics are at their best when they highlight the supreme talented athletes competing in the world's less profitable sports—the ones that only get to shine every four years. Unlike, say, golf, which was added to the 2016 Games in Rio even though you can watch the best players in the world compete against each other (for money!) any of the other 51 weekends of the year.
And wrestling isn't even obscure! Nearly three times as many countries sent athletes to the London Games to compete in wrestling as they did in the modern pentathlon, one of the odder sports to survive the cut. In the United States, it's still very popular at the high school and college level, and many of the best Mixed Martial Arts fighters (and yes, professional wrestlers) got their start on the freestyle mat. Most of them took up the sport dreaming of Olympic gold, but interest is sure to plummet if that dream dies. The goal of the Olympic movement should be to promote all sports, not pit them against each other, and surely the IOC can afford to mint a few extra medals.
The one bit of good news is that this isn't the end of Olympic wrestling yet. The final vote on the Olympic program with take in place in September (along with the vote for the host city), and wrestling can still be considered for inclusion along with the seven replacement sports. It's a long shot, but if there's enough of an international outcry, it might still win a reprieve. I know that I'm not going to tell these guy to take a hike:
It's not over yet. We will keep fighting to save the sport we love. Don't stop dreaming and don't stop believing. #SaveOlympicWrestling— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) February 12, 2013
Dropping wrestling from the #2020olympics Not on my watch. Got a lot to do today I know they are not ready to take on the wrestling world— Jake Herbert (@Jakeherbert84) February 12, 2013