I love the Olympics. I really, really do. Every two years I get Olympics fee-vah. I even had a stitch named in honor of my family members who served in the military sewn into the US flag carried into the opening ceremony last summer.
But something happened about a month ago that threatens to tarnish my view on the Olympics. I was skimming through the Wall Street Journal one morning and came across an article about wrestling being dropped from the Olympics games (the online version is here). My first reaction was “How can they do that?! Are they NUTS?!”, but before I jumped to any conclusions, I read the whole article, just to see what in the world the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was thinking.
Before I go in to my mini-rant on this, let me provide a little background on the Olympic games – and how certain sports are dropped. The Olympics traditionally have 28 games or sports, but in 2001, the IOC decided that only 25 of those events would be reserved for the “core” sports (like track and field), and the other three spots would be for new or revived games. In the past, BMX biking and beach volleyball were two of the “new” sports added, both of which have fan bases composed of mostly young people.
In 2009, golf and rugby were approved to be added to the games in 2016, and then, on February 12, 2013, the IOC announced that it would be dropping wrestling from the 2020 games, and that the sport would have to join the rest of the new sports vying for a bid in the 2020 games (including baseball/softball, karate, squash and roller sport, among others).
Apparently, the issue is that wrestling doesn’t appeal to a younger audience. The IOC cites low media coverage and a lack of “global popularity” as why the sport was dropped. As you can imagine, the decision has sparked outrage through wrestling communities around the world.
Let me start off my commentary by saying I belong in one of these wrestling worlds by marriage only. My husband, Ryan, wrestled all through middle and high school and was a collegiate Division III All-American when he wrestled at Heidelberg University. My father-in-law coached Ryan through high school, and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are huge fans of the sport. That family lives and breathes wrestling. My family, on the other hand, is a basketball family. Me, my parents, sister, uncles, cousins, etc. all played the sport, and man, do we love us some basketball. Therefore, wrestling never really existed in my world until I met Ryan. I still don’t really “get” the sport and given the choice, I probably wouldn’t choose to watch it.
I bring that up because I don’t want it to look like my outrage over the IOC’s decision about wrestling is about Ryan and all of his wrestling achievements. I do not think that it’s the greatest sport ever, nor am I a wrestle-or-die type of fan.
I am, however, a big believer in tradition.
As one of the eight games played in the original Olympics, I think wrestling has rightfully earned its spot in the games. And it should stay that way. I actually find it quite hard to believe that wrestling has a smaller fan base than fencing or archery. Maybe that’s because my husband and his friends and family are glued to the TV during the wrestling events, but even my dad gets into it, so it can’t just be all retired wrestlers who watch.
And it’s not like wrestling has low participation. With 18 contests with at least 18 athletes from 71 different countries competing in each contest, that’s over 320 wrestlers. By comparison, my beloved basketball had only 12 countries participate. Wrestling is arguably a sport in which men and women from all over the world participate – and one the world would surely miss.
My last point is one I wasn’t even sure I wanted to bring up, as I’m sure it would spark some outrage in readers out there. But I need to say it: I truly believe that the athletic ability it takes to compete in some of these new sports (BMX biking, for example) is NOWHERE near the athletic ability required to succeed in wrestling. No offense, bikers of the world – I certainly respect anyone who competes at the Olympic level, but come on. Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Regardless, I think it’s a shame that the IOC came to this decision. It seems to me that lately we are so quick to replace “old” and “boring” things with “new” and “exciting”. Probably too quick to do so. Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in history, and if it doesn’t belong in the Olympic games, then BMX biking and roller derby certainly do not. New and exciting has its appeal, I will admit, but perhaps that shouldn’t be the biggest deciding factor when selecting games for the Olympics, one of our world’s oldest traditions.
If you’re interested, there is a petition started by team of wrestling advocates, including the governor of Iowa, to keep the tradition of wrestling in the Olympics.
I sincerely hope that the IOC comes to the right decision when picking the games for 2020, and in my opinion, the “right decision” is staying with tradition by keeping wrestling in the Olympic games.