Today the International Olympic Committee announced that wrestling has been dropped from its list of “core sports,” making it very unlikely we will see it in the Olympics beginning in 2020. The announcement is just the latest in a string of decisions regarding the inclusion and exclusion of sports over the last 20 years that have the Olympics losing relevancy little by little.
More and more, the Summer Games are becoming about two sports: swimming and gymnastics. These are the sports that move the television needle and for good reason. They are exciting to watch every four years and their audiences include both men AND women. Television ratings equal advertising dollars for networks and advertising dollars for networks equal bigger and bigger rights fees paid to… the International Olympic Committee.
But the Olympic ideal is suffering when wrestling, one of the oldest sports in the Olympics, if not the original sport, is excluded. Think about those ancient Greek pictures of athletic competition you see? What are they doing? They’re wrestling. And real wrestling has produced some great Olympic moments over the past twenty years. I specifically remember seeing Kurt Angle win the gold in 1996, but especially, I remember watching Rulon Gardner beat that Russian in 2000 who hadn’t lost since the Bolshevik Revolution. Wrestling is pretty much the ultimate one-on-one, who’s better sport that exists. It’s not for everybody, but it’s pure, and not malicious. And it’s an Olympic icon.
So why is it being discarded? No doubt for television, because golf(!) is being included instead. And this is where I get irritated, because you know it’s going to be professionals doing the golfing. And for the record, I have no record with professionals in the Olympics, especially when it comes to team sports in which the Olympics is the biggest international competition in that sport. But Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and whoever else is a top golfer today… while the Olympic Gold Medal would be nice to add to their trophy collection, they are already competing on a weekly basis, and are shooting for a Green Jacket at the Masters, or a U.S. Open or British Open championship. Golf doesn’t need the Olympics. Wrestling does.
How about tennis? Tennis has been an Olympic sport for a while now, but why? Again, Venus and Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer… they have Wimbledon, the French Open, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open EVERY year. Tennis doesn’t need the Olympics. Wrestling does.
You should arguably get rid of soccer before you get rid of wrestling, and I love soccer. But the national teams are only allowed to send so many veteran players to the Olympics, and they are all thinking about the World Cup anyway. I know that European national teams are thinking more about the next European Championship than they are the Olympics. And for that matter, FIFA, soccer’s governing body, already holds multiple tournaments for under-20 and under-17 teams. Soccer most certainly doesn’t need the Olympics, but wrestling does.
Baseball and softball have been excluded from the Olympics. Those were amateur teams that got cut. Major League Baseball has responded with beginning the World Baseball Classic, which includes the pros but very few care about. Just this week Justin Verlander, probably the best pitcher in baseball, opted to do complete spring training with the Tigers rather than play for his country in the WBC. And no one really cares because the WBC is not much more than an afterthought.
Basketball does have its own world championships, which in recent years have gotten bigger and better, but the Olympics is still the title everyone is shooting for in that sport.
It just seems unconscionable that wrestling, of all things, would be cut from the Olympics while golf is added, and tennis and soccer are kept. Is wrestling really less important and less popular than RHYTHMIC GYMNASTICS? You know, the one they always show the day before the last day of the Olympics where a bunch of girls and jumping around with flags and what not? How about synchronized swimming? Do we really need to protect that in the Olympics?
I should note that the Olympics will be adding rugby, which I have absolutely no problems with. I think it will be good for both the Olympics and the sport of rugby. But still, what is the International Olympic Committee doing?
Ok. Inconsequential rant over.
UPDATE: Actually, no, it isn’t over. If the IOC wants to get rid of something how about boxing? Olympic boxing has been a sham, at least since 1988, and probably for longer than that.