Joe Tuscano Column
Wrestling’s ouster all about money
The reason why the International Olympic Committee wants to eliminate wrestling after the 2016 Olympics is not hard to figure out, though the ballot process was kept secret and no official directly commented on the reason why.
Anyone who has watched the political drama around these Games knows why one of the oldest and most respected sports was tossed in the dumpster.
The IOC would rather have Tiger Woods over takedowns, ratings over reversals and popularity over pins.
And parochialism was never so evident, or conflict of interest so rampant, than in the most recent history of the Games.
How else to explain the possible loss of wrestling, when the pentathlon – a combination of running, shooting, having afternoon tea and taking a shopping trip to Macy’s – still survives. It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. of Spain is on the IOC board and also serves as vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union. Juan’s father, Juan Sr., was at one time president of the IOC for 21 years.
When the United States developed the Dream Team for basketball, in a way, it marked a threat against every sport that lacks that type of charisma and star power, including wrestling. The IOC saw the big boost the Dream Team gave them in television ratings, which of course leads to more advertising dollars, which leads to Olympic Games that don’t finish in the red.
That level of hype doesn’t exist in wrestling, or many other sports. In the eyes of IOC members, that probably made wrestling seem expendable or at least ignited the discussion.
It would be a mistake to think the IOC cares much about the competitive level or the tradition of the Games. For decades, this group turned a blind eye to the, ahem, peculiar body types of some of its competitors because the scandal of performance-enhancing activities would be devastating to the aura of amateurism and fair play.
Allowing professional athletes to participate changed the landscape for the IOC, which is made up mostly of European aristocrats and select family members, who can use their influence to alter the survival rate of any sport. Lobbying for change occurs at cocktail parties, not corporate headquarters, and with people who don’t necessarily appreciate history or tradition unless it directly affects their native country or their self-interests.
Wrestling has at times been its own worst enemy, especially Greco-Roman where its a tough task to explain the rules to someone not familiar with the sport and does not have the recognizable names that its freestyle partner does. It does not have a high television viewership so it doesn’t receive the plum scheduling spots. Only the most fervent fan and the curious are passionate about the sport.
Wrestling also has been hurt by the – how can I put this diplomatically? – inconsistencies of those who design its rules. Google “Cary Kolat” and “shoelaces” if you want an example of what I mean.
Wrestling’s supporters might be able to change the minds of the IOC members, but that won’t be easy. A meeting will be held in May in Russia. One area wrestling official recently joked that if the IOC decision was not reversed at that meeting, the committee might not be able to leave Russia.
Once removed, a sport has a tough road for reinstatement. Softball fans already know this. Its defenders can talk about the tradition of wrestling, the longevity of the sport, the wide-spread appeal it has in many different countries, and how preparing for the pursuit of a gold medal might just be the most grueling process in an athlete’s life.
Those arguments might sway the committee.
But writing a check wouldn’t hurt.
Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.