Wrestling — not the fake stuff on TV that features cheesy performers in colorful tights — is one of the world’s oldest competitive sports. Greco-Roman wrestling was a cornerstone of the original Olympic games millennia ago.
Although wrestling was good enough to get a prime-time slot in the Old Testament (Jacob versus the angel), the executive board of the International Olympic Committee doubts the sport’s relevance for contemporary audiences. It is removing wrestling from its list of core sports in the 2020 Olympics.
Committee members said they had to eliminate something because they plan to add another, unspecified sport later this year. The committee said that wrestling, despite its Olympic tradition, lacks generational appeal.
Forty athletes from around the world competed in wrestling categories in last year’s London Olympics, suggesting international interest in the sport. But instead of an automatic berth, wrestling will have to duke it out with karate, squash, softball, and the Chinese martial art wushu for a spot in 2020.
The committee’s decision disappoints many of the 280,000 Americans who take part in wrestling programs. Despite the disrespect shown by the Olympics, wrestling remains an important part of the sports mix at U.S. high schools and colleges. It is too excellent a tool for athletic conditioning to slip into obscurity.
If the committee sticks by its plan, other international wrestling competitions may gain stature, but still won’t be the same as the Olympics. Committee members should reconsider their decision.