The IOC is wrestling to drop this Olympic sport

15 Feb

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It’s been six months since the end of the London 2012 Olympic Games but the international sporting event is still generating plenty of coverage this week:

Leading the pack is South African Paralympic gold medallist and double amputee Oscar Pistorius who’s recently denied murder after his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was found dead at his home.

Secondly, ‘poster girl for London 2012’ Jessica Ennis has topped a poll, alongside the Queen, as one of the country’s most inspirational women.

Lastly, the International Olympic Commission (IOC) is facing criticism after it announced it wanted to drop wrestling as an Olympic sport – an event that dates back to the ancient Greek games and has been part of the modern programme since 1896.

There’s still a chance it could stay – if the IOC officially ratifies it at a meeting in September – but at the moment it’s competing against six other sports, such as baseball and squash, for one spot in the 2020 programme.

Of all the recent news the latter bothers me most. Why? Because those that have been with Prime Time from the beginning will remember that when I was a GamesMaker I helped to oversee the wrestling at the ExCeL centre.

The Olympic Games has such a unique history that it’s a privilege for countries to host this amazing centre stage to showcase talented athletes. (You only have to watch a snippet of Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony to see how much effort we put in.) With this in mind, I appreciate that to keep the Olympics current, occasionally it has to redevelop itself. And I’m all eyes and eyes for modernisation, but when elements of the event’s history and heritage are at stake then that’s a different matter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a closet member of FILA – the wrestling federation. Until last August I’d never even seen a Greco-Roman match, but the fact that the IOC has deemed it a good enough sport, to recognise and reward athletes for demonstrating their skills and strength, for more than a century must worth something.

If it’s about ticket sales, the IOC should be supporting FILA with advice to raise the sport’s profile. After all, more athletes and more fans would benefit both parties. But, instead the committee bull-dozed ahead without talking to anyone. So, not only does the IOC look rash but also now appears defensive by saying:

“We knew even before the decision was taken whatever sport would not be included in the core programme would lead to criticism from the supporters of that sport.”

The backlash against the IOC has spread quickly and I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels surprised. ESPN’s Jim Caple highlights a range of other sports that could’ve been given the chopper which would’ve caused less controversy. (Trampolining anyone?)

Wrestling is an ancient sport. I mean that in the historical sense, not old.
It’ll be interesting to see what the outcome is as the wrestlers, and their fans, fight to feature in Rio and beyond.

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