Carol Huynh celebrates a gold medal. (vancouverobserver.com)
Carol Huynh celebrates a gold medal. (vancouverobserver.com)

IOC wrong to pin wrestling

a/Behind the Bench/Sports by

As a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, it should be no surprise that I have developed an interest in the sport’s different components.

This is why I was so excited to watch Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling during the London 2012 Olympic games. For anyone who tuned in to watch these sports, wrestling provided some of the Olympics’ greatest moments. On the women’s side of the bracket, two Canadians, Carol Huynh and Tonya Verbeek showcased their toughness with a hard-fought bronze and silver medal, respectively. On the men’s side, the Canadian Matthew Gentry came up just short of winning a medal in the men’s 74 kg freestyle. The man to whom he lost—the sublime American wrestler, Jordan Burroughs—dominated the gold medal match in a weight class typically won by Eastern European and Iranian wrestlers.

Given the athletic drama that wrestling provides, it came as a shock that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to remove wrestling from the 2020 Games last week, leaving in other sports such as modern pentathlon. Not only are many people ignorant to what modern pentathlon is, one would also be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows which five disciplines constitute this bizarre Olympic sport. For those interested, it is a combination of pistol shooting, fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a three-kilometre run. Designed to emulate the plight of 19th century cavalry soldier deep in the enemy’s turf, it unquestionably captures sport in the 21st century… or not.

The IOC’s purported reasons for removing wrestling were vague and not forthcoming. They said that this decision was not intended to discredit wrestling, but rather, to affirm how important the other 25 Olympic sports are, and how the IOC now has room to include a new sport in the 2020 games.

This reasoning is foolish. First, wrestling has been included in every modern Olympics since 1896, and was the key component of the ancient Olympics. Wrestling is also a truly global sport, with 71 nations competing in the last Olympic games, and 29 different countries medalling. To eliminate this sport from the games would be a sign that the modern Olympics have no appreciation for its deep and rich tradition.

Next, the IOC’s decision reeked of corruption. Modern pentathlon maintained its status as an Olympic sport because of the persistent lobbying of the former IOC President’s son, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. It’s not a stretch to say that nobody would be surprised if this ‘lobbying’ took place inside of fancy hotels and with the exchanges of fancy leather briefcases.

Wrestling also does not have a professional league. The Olympics is the only way any wrestler can ever expect to make a living from the sport, an option the IOC’s decision has put in jeopardy.

Finally, the move is unnecessary as the IOC could have just extended the Olympics another day, without eliminating any sport, and still adding new ones.

Fortunately, all is not lost for aficionados of this noble sport. Wrestling still has a chance of being picked for the 2020 games amongst a host of other sports such asbvnvgbnn   wakeboarding, karate, golf, baseball, squash, wushu, and sports climbing. Countries like Iran, Russia, and the United States are all deeply invested in maintaining wrestling’s status as an Olympic sport, and will likely lobby very hard on its behalf. If, for some reason, the IOC does not reinstate wrestling into the games, the committee will be sending a very clear message: consumerism and special interests are more important than the pursuit of athletic excellence.