sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Goodbye to wrestling?: Another pitiful modern sports story

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Anybody who knows me at all knew this one was coming. The IOC board voted to dump wrestling from the Olympics starting in 2020.

Lots of people are howling about this. And they damn well should be. There are many sides and angles to this story, but to me, it’s another in the long tale about how money and special interest have diseased sports, another in a long line of pitiful modern sports stories.

If you know me you probably know I’m a wrestling coach. I have been the head coach of Palmyra Junior Wrestling, a youth organization for kids ages 5 to 13 years old, for five years, and involved with the sport otherwise for 30 years.

People of all shapes and sizes can wrestle. You don’t have to be six-foot-five. You don’t have to be 235 lbs. You don’t have to be gifted with great foot speed. You don’t have to be lucky enough to have rich parents who can buy you lots of equipment and practice time. Boys can wrestle. Girls can wrestle. People with almost any disability can wrestle. It’s inclusive. It’s populist.

The IOC’s decision ignores all of this. It was a decision based on elitism and partisanship. In a secret vote, they were to evaluate the events of the summer games with the goal of eliminating one so they could add another. The criteria were murky. The voters had allegiances.

One of the sports wrestling is competing with is the modern pentathlon. I’m trying not to pile on with the criticisms of the modern pentathlon (but it’s there to be done, as ESPN writer Jim Caple and Chicago Tribune writer Steven H. Biondolillo, among others, have succinctly shown). I mean, quick now, name the five components of the pentathlon…

According to writer John Irving in The New York Times the pentathlon had competitors from 26 countries in last year’s London Olympics, while wrestlers from 29 countries won medals; Olympic wrestlers hailed from a total of 71 countries. World-wide, 180 countries wrestle, and only 53 engage in the modern pentathlon. Even though wrestling had almost twice as many TV viewers as the pentathlon, there was some talk of viewership governing the vote (which is pitiful in its own right). Irving also said IOC board member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who is the son of a former IOC president, is also, oh by the way, vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union.

We’ll see what good comes of this. Already, strange partners have joined together for wrestling’s cause: The U.S., Cuba, Russia, and Iran. They are perhaps driven by the shared human legacy that wrestling represents. Iranian wrestler Ali Reza Dabir, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist, called wrestling “the identity” of the Olympics. “Do we destroy our historical sites which are symbols of humanity? No. Then, why should we destroy wrestling?”

I have been involved with the sport because, to me, wrestling builds character like few other activities. The connectedness of those who have wrestled is not based on the vacuous act of simply joining but on having shared in the unique commitments the sport requires.

So I’m biased. I’ve defined myself in many ways because of the challenges placed in front of me by wrestling. Forget the push-ups and headlocks. For a person like me – I’m no Dan Gable – the emotional and psychological struggles of a wrestling season helped change the way I approach adversity in other areas of my life.

It’s why I’m proud my own children have done it, and it’s why I’m proud every time a little kid from my program steps on the mat, in front of all those people.

The opportunities of wrestling are open to anyone, and most of the world is involved with this foundational sport that asks so much of its competitors. The potential removal of wrestling from the Olympics is another pitiful sports story: People making decisions based on self-interest, money, media. So the beat of contemporary sports goes on, drowning out those clear, essential tones of real human competition.

If you’re ticked off enough about this, sign the petition at Change.org.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the writing center. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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6 Responses to “Goodbye to wrestling?: Another pitiful modern sports story”

  1. Well put my man. I have thousand different rants i could go with but i’ll try to keep it short. u just can’t have the olympics w/out wresling. It’s like thanksgiving w/out football or turkey. I have seen some stuff on the mats that would make you cry, laugh, get pissed, get insane it has it all. When u put urself out there on the mat there is no place to hide, no one to blame, no one to help, its u and him and here we go. Nothing i swear is more honest, fun(yes fun), tough, pure, satisfying. Say what u want u need turkey n football on thanksgiving and to have a real olympics u need wrestling.

  2. Eliminate the pentathalon? Are you nuts?

    General Patton represented the US in the pentathalon. There was controversy over the pistol event where Patton believes he put two rounds through the same hole. The judges did not. Patton bowed out gracefully.

    He also designed his own sword for the fencing competition. And he trained with the finest swordsmen in Europe at the time.

    Watch the pentathalon or men rolling around in wedgie suits? Give me the pentathalon.

  3. @Rich, thankfully Patton would not have that issue in today’s Pentathlon because they don’t even use real guns due to a rule change. They use Laser Tag guns now that don’t shoot anything other than a beam of light. Not even the tiny pellets that had been used in recent years.

  4. The fall out from this is creeping through the back of my mind daily. The timing, for my wrestler could not be worse. Not that I am hooked on the idea of having an Olympic athlete for a son by any means, but now even if that is a dream of his, it may become even more remote. From the money side of it, there is already talk that colleges and universities, where the majority of US Olympians get the bulk of their training, will likely now start phasing out their wrestling programs as well in favor of those sports that can generate revenue and notoriety for their school.
    I don’t know the numbers well enough but I do know that wrestling is not at every university and it was a major consideration for my son as he maps out how he would like his future to look. I just hope those schools stay on the bandwagon and fight to keep wrestling rather than burying it and moving along.
    We need wrestlers and I need to find more to do about it than just signing some electronic petitions. (Suggestions welcome!!!)

  5. This is such a mind-numbingly ridiculous decision that I’m not sure I can rationally comment on it yet. But as long as there is still included synchronized anything or rhythmic something….or for that matter ANYTHING arbitrarily judged by another human being but great events like wrestling are voted out, my opinion of the Olympics will forever be tainted.

    I’m actually a big fan of the Olympics, but my attention paid to it lessens with every one of theses bone headed moves. I hope somebody has the foresight to reverse this trend before the Games slip from my sporting/cultural radar altogether.

  6. I completely agree, Scott. This decision is really problematic, beyond the emotional response to the IOC eliminating a sport that has been part of the games since, well, since there were games.

    This is an example of population-based decision-making that caters exclusively to the needs of the many without regard for the needs of the few. If this decision were made in the U.S. under U.S. law, it might even be regarded as unconstitutional.

    The decision to exclude wrestling from the Olympics is not only a loss to the sport and the games, but it disproportionately impacts certain competitor nations more than others. Worse, it seems to arbitrarily sanction them for no reason.

    Countries like Azerbaijan, for example, are represented almost solely by wrestling at the Olympics, and without the opportunity to wrestle they are, in effect, denied an opportunity to participate and legitimately compete.

    The Olympics, despite the fact that they are skewed to favor larger nations with more money and a bigger athlete pools from which to draw, are supposed to provide a stage where all are welcomed to complete and showcase what they do best.

    Very few nations (with obvious exceptions) can compete in all categories, but eliminating wrestling disenfranchises smaller nations because in Azerbaijan, for example, they don’t have much else beyond wrestling when it comes to global-stage athletics.

    Badminton is a Labor Day BBQ pastime at best in the United States, yet it remains an Olympic sport because in highly populated Asia it’s wildly popular. Wrestling is no more or no less popular than it ever was, but changes in global demographics have had a relative affect.

    It’s unfortunate that the IOC doesn’t recognize that eliminating wrestling while allowing other sports with comparably spotty international support to remain part of the games takes away the rights of many nations to succeed on a global stage.

    And by taking wrestling off the schedule, the IOC just guaranteed that big countries already dominating the medal race will see their medal tallies grow to become even more disportionate relative to the little countries.

    In the international medal race, the needs of the many just pinned the needs of the few. And, unfortunately, beyond the U.S., affirmative action doesn’t exist.

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