The International Olympic Committee shocked many today by announcing that it is dropping wrestling as an Olympic sport for the 2020 Games. Instead, they will add golf. That’s right, they are dropping one of the original Olympic sports that go back to the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 and one of the few sports traced back to ancient Greece. However, we will keep synchronized swimming and Rhythmic Gymnastic routines with ribbons and hoops.
The IOC is known to most people for its long history of corruption and excess. However, it will occasionally take a break from self-dealing to undermine its institution. The sport of wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year’s London Olympics. It also was one of the unbroken links to the origins of the Olympics and one of the most impressive physically demanding sports. It will now be replaced by golf? The decision seems overly cynical and opportunistic. There is more money in golf and viewers around the world. Yet, wrestling is a sport that is part of school programs around the world — programs which will be adversely affected by this decision.
The selection of golf shows the continuing control of money over the IOC members. Golf is supported by major companies willing to spend a lot in wooing IOC members. Notably, the IOC looks at television ratings and ticket sales to make its decision as well as global participation. However, this is not just another sport but one of the classic competition of the Olympics. Tradition should mean something to the IOC. It is bad enough that dance routines on the gymnastic floor and synchronized swimming is making the Olympic look increasingly like a Vegas act. Why not cut dubious competitions like shooting which require a fraction of the physical ability of wrestling? I am not a wrestling fan, but I do love history and believe that some traditions lend authenticity of an event like the Olympics.
The IOC has demonstrated with this decision that it is continuing to shed its sports orientation in favor of a business model. If the rating and sponsors were good enough, the IOC would make a chorus line an Olympic sport (which is already close to reality with Rhythmic Gymnastics). I have long been a critic of the IOC which seems to fulfill and surpass the worst expectations of many of us each and every year. However, this decision has set a new low for the IOC.