By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
— The members of the amateur wrestling community were in mourning on Tuesday and they had pretty good reason.
That was the day the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee recommended the elimination of wrestling from future Olympic Games beginning in 2020. Wrestling as a sport dates back thousands of years and was included in the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Although everyone knew wrestling was one of the sports being considered for elimination, the overwhelming majority were surprised the IOC board recommended the ax for a sport with such rich international tradition.
“My first reaction was shock,” longtime Minnesota State coach Jim Makovsky said Tuesday afternoon. “And then I started thinking how this was going to impact the kids. I have to believe there’s a lot of politics and lot of money involved in this decision.”
The recommendation was the result of a secret ballot of IOC board members in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Committee is ostensibly trying to pare the Olympics down to 25 “core sports” and apparently wrestling — both freestyle and Greco-Roman, both men’s and women’s — was the initial casualty.
Among the criteria the IOC members examined in making this decision were television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policies, world-wide popularity and participation. While wrestling may not be on par with basketball or hockey in most of those categories, it certainly fares better than some of the other Olympic sports that were spared, such as field hockey and modern pentathlon.
“It’s a punch in the gut because we’ve done a lot of work here (in the U.S.) to keep wrestling viable,” Makovsky said.
Since 1999, 40 intercollegiate wrestling programs have been dropped but 95 have been added for a net gain of 40. In addition, more than 8,200 women now wrestle at the high school level and there are 21 intercollegiate women’s wrestling programs.
It’s understandable that Makovsky is dismayed by the IOC’s Executive Board decision since wrestling has had a positive impact on his life and of most of his wrestlers but he and his peers are not going to accept the decision without a fight. In fact, USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender says representatives from the IOC have already agreed to meet with him.
A final decision won’t be made until the IOC reconvenes in May. Until then, the wrestling world is mobilizing to try to reverse the decision.
“The original creed of the Olympic Games was that they should test mind, body and soul,” Makovsky said. “I don’t know of many sports that embody that better than wrestling.”
Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.