It is a universal gladiatorial sport with over 3,000 years of history, but not even Olympic wrestling is immune to the present day demand for downsizing and dollar pinching. Nevermind that it is one of the oldest sports in the Olympics today. Nevermind that it harbors more sporting merit than approved events such as table tennis, BMX, beach volleyball, and sailing. On Feb.12, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to remove wrestling from its list of core sports, thus eliminating any chance of the sport’s automatic Olympic appearance for the first time in over 100 years.
In reality, FILA, the global organization that regulates amateur wrestling, had only itself to blame for the sport’s ousting. The wrestling community had grown complacent, so overly confident in their Olympic standing that they failed to evolve with the changing of the times. The sport’s popularity took frequent dips year after year due to its low scoring, limited action, lack of female representation, failure to capitalize on social media, and speculation that FILA was prone to corruption. However, the sudden pull of the Olympic plug may have just been the best thing that could have happened for the wrestling community.
After the IOC’s decision, supporters of wrestling voiced a global outcry for reform. What followed was a six-month frenzy of reconstruction and reinvention for the sport. Unlikely alliances between the United States, Iran, and Russia were formed in order to save one of the most global sports in the world. FILA elected a new president in Nenad Lalovic of Serbia, who spearheaded the modernization of wrestling in hopes of re-instatement for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan. The changes included additional women’s weight classes, increased marketing efforts, and amendments to the scoring system that reward aggression, penalize stalling, and consequently cause participants to score points more
On Sept. 8, FILA’s efforts proved successful as the IOC voted for wrestling’s participation in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics as part of a non-core sport wild card spot. Wrestling had been awarded 49 of 95 IOC votes for its participation, beating out baseball-softball and squash. Nenad Lalovic explained that it was “the most important day in the 3,000 year history of (the) sport”.
Indeed, it was a triumphant day for wrestling and an exciting day for Olympic viewers eager to see a more exciting breed of matches, but given the ultimate outcome, one cannot help but notice the repercussions with the end result. What the IOC has done is chosen a rightfully core sport to replace a hopeful non-core sport in subsequent Olympic games. These non-core sports rely on “new sport” voting into the Olympics, as they are not granted automatic entry. Due to wrestling’s excessive history and public uproar, sports like baseball, softball, squash, and karate never stood a chance at being selected for an invitation. To put it bluntly, this is just not fair. Placing one of the Olympics founding sports in the new sport voting ballot defeats the purpose of having a “new sport” wild card. The IOC should overturn the initial decision to remove wrestling from the core sports. It would appear that FILA has learned its lesson from remaining stagnant for so long a time, and wrestling should now be a much more profitable commodity given its newly acquired modernity. Returning wrestling to the core sport list creates a window of opportunity for new sports, and places wrestling where it belongs, among its fellow events rich in athletic history and ancient tradition.