The wrestling community was understandably galvanized and in an uproar as never before last week.
Hopefully, its uprage isn’t coming too late.
The source of the sentiment, of course, was the decision by the International Olympic Committee’s executive board to drop wrestling beginning in 2020.
It was a shocking decision. Wrestling was at the heart of the early Olympics and it’s still highly popular around the world. More than 70 countries competed in wrestling at the London Olympics and 29 of them won medals.
Retained as Olympic sports, with far less participation, were modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey.
It just didn’t make sense. Not only is wrestling clearly one of the Olympics’ core 25 sports, but it’s an inexpensive undertaking that is easy to understand and televise and can make for great drama.
Who can forget, for example, Rulan Gardner’s gold medal in Sydney, when he beat Russia star Aleksandr Karelin, who was considered all but unbeatable?
There are many arguments that can be made in favor of wrestling, but none were made when the Executive Board voted because no one in the wrestling community saw its exclusion as a possibility.
By contrast, modern pentathlete fans (yes, there are some) knew that their sport was in trouble and lobbied hard and successfully to remain.
Plus, five of the 15 members of the board had been athletes or officials of that sport’s five events.
Make no mistake about it, however. Losing wrestling will be a crippling blow not just to the United States, but to Russia, Iran and other hotbeds of the sport. At London, Russia won 11 of its 82 medals in wrestling.
Wrestling is not quote as prominent in the United States as it was in the last century, but it still is the sport’s all-time medal winner with 124, including 50 in gold.
More to the point, however, losing wrestling at the Olympics will cripple the sport at the lower level.
”The Olympics is the ultimate goal for every young wrestler,” said Tim O’Keefe, the former Lowell coach and a member of the Mass. State Wrestling Committee. “Kids look forward to wrestling in high school, college and the Olympics.
”There’s nothing else. The Olympics is the Super Bowl for wrestling and you’ve got to keep it. It’s what drives young kids to excel.
”I worry about collegiate wrestling without it. So many colleges have eliminated it already and the argument for keeping it has been that it’s an Olympic sport.”
Fortunately, the final decision won’t be made until the IOC’s annual meeting in September in Buenos Aires and, by then, pressure from the wrestling community will be overwhelming and clearer minds will prevail.
There is a petition, “The International Olympic Committee: Save Wrestling as an Olympic sport,” going around that will be sent to President Obama. Anyone interested should sign on to the internet address below and sign it: www.change.org/petitions/the-international-olympic-committee-save-wrestling-as-an-olympic-sport-saveolympicwrestling