The International Olympic Committee is dropping wrestling from competition after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the result of some elaborate secret ballot it holds every so often to determine its 25 "core sports."
In part because golf and rugby are coming to the Olympics, something had to go. This time it was wrestling, apparently edged out by the modern pentathlon for survival.
As such, both freestyle (somewhat similar to what you see in American high schools and colleges) and Greco Roman, each of which dated back to the 1896 Games in Greece, will soon be history. Wrestling can try to get back in, but the odds are long.
This is a poor decision and it would be only slightly less poor of a decision if it was modern pentathlon (a five-event competition of fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting) that got the boot instead.
It's golf that should never have been granted access in the first place.
Forget arguing the various strengths and weaknesses of each sport. That's often a cultural opinion. This is a global event and tastes vary. In the United States, badminton is considered a joke, something played at backyard barbeques, even occasionally while sober. In the overcrowded cities of third-world countries, however, it's a way to play tennis – basically street tennis for the non-wealthy. They don't have a lot of All-Lawn Tennis Clubs in Malaysia. Millions take badminton seriously and consider watching it at the highest level a sight to behold.
And that's part of why badminton is a fine Olympic sport.
Badminton also plays to another Olympic strength – winning the gold medal is a huge deal to those athletes, the pinnacle for most. So is winning a gold medal in modern pentathlon. Same for wrestling.
That's not at all the case for golf, where a gold medal isn't a green jacket.
The Olympics are special when they offer the ultimate global competition for a group of athletes, where everyone builds to this singular moment. It doesn't matter if it's a millionaire such as Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, or a teenage gymnast with a dream, or a poor courageous middle distance runner out of Central Africa, the Olympics are an accomplishment that brings joy and tears and importance and everything.
Rory McIlroy will win a gold in Rio and then head off to his next event. Yes, it will be cool. Yes, he'll say the right thing. Yes, he'll enjoy it – the way the professional tennis players enjoy it – but it isn't bigger than the British Open or whatever major is next.
It probably won't be as important as even the Ryder Cup, golf's fine international competition.
The IOC should seek sports that care about the Olympics, not just jamming popular TV sports into the Olympic system and pretending it's the same thing.
One of the problems with the IOC is that its history of rampant corruption makes any of its decisions suspect. Who knows why each voter voted as they did, but it doesn't take much of a skeptic to think this was a political – and thus graft-filled – process. Each sport was forced to campaign for itself and, thus, against the others.
Imagine being a voter and courted with a "fact-finding" mission by the golf industry. Oh, the incredible seaside places you could go and experience to help convince you the entire world needs to be introduced to this wonderful sport. Perhaps, after a little Olympic promotion, they'll suddenly build a "Mali National" on a nice hillside perch overlooking Timbuktu.
Now imagine the wrestling community offering a tour of, well, what? An Alburnett (Iowa) High School dual meet? Actually, that might be pretty cool, except as good as the broasted chicken is down at Mahoney's, it might not meet the discerning palate of that IOC official fat off meals in Monaco.
In the end, wrestling probably didn't stand a chance, in part, because the IOC is forgetting another of its chief positives.
The Olympics are great at celebrating – and reminding everyone – what isn't necessarily a sport, but a primal activity.
Humans run. Humans swim. Humans ski. Humans fight. Humans shoot arrows out of bows. And humans wrestle. They've always wrestled. They wrestled probably before they even became fully human. There is no explaining the concept or how anyone came up with the idea for the sport – at some point, two guys were standing around and wanted to see who could pin the other.
That's the basis of so many great Olympic sports. Want to race to that big tree over there? Done. Want to see who can sled down this mountain faster? Sure. Want to find out who can swim across the river faster? You're on.
Even as the sports fade in popularity to more modern team activities such as soccer and basketball and football, there is something wonderfully pure about it. Obviously, golf is an old, simple pursuit itself, invented by bored Scottish sheepherders. It's done fine, however, without the Olympics. And while the Games should aim to stay current with the times, golf isn't half-pipe snowboarding, a sport the next generation of kids is suddenly into. Golf is actually losing players in many countries.
It's good to have a speed-skating race because we've had skating races since man invented the skate, and winning that race at the Olympics makes someone a legend in that sport.
The same way it does, or did, in wrestling.
Winning the gold in golf won't ever be treated that way.
That, more than anything, is why the IOC blew this one.
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