On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee Executive Board dropped wrestling. The banishment of one of the oldest Olympic sports prompted sharp reactions from Turkey, Iran, Russia, and the U.S. To discuss what the move means for the sport and for the Olympics, Bill Littlefield spoke with Boston Globe writer and long-time OAG analyst John Powers, who called the decision “an absolute mystery.”
“No one saw wrestling being endangered,” Powers said. “I mean, it only goes back 2,500 years. I think what happened was, they didn’t have a friend at the table and didn’t seem endangered, so did no lobbying.”Female wrestling made its Olympic debut in 2004. Powers said modern pentathlon – which combines fencing, swimming, riding, shooting, and running – was widely viewed to be the event on the chopping block, but it had a powerful ally: Juan Antonio Samaranch, Jr., son of the longtime IOC president, serves is on the IOC Executive Board and is first vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union.
“Still, it is baffling,” Powers said. “This is a sport that 71 countries participated in in London, and 29 won medals, [everywhere] from Algeria to Vietnam. So it’s baffling, but no more baffling than giving the Winter Games to Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea.”
Powers said there’s an outside chance that wrestling could be restored when the board meets again in May, or at the IOC’s annual meeting in September.
“The final decision will be made when the IOC meets in Buenos Aires to basically pick the host of the 2020 Games,” Powers said. “And they can vote up or down –- they don’t have to be ruled by what the executive board says, and I think that wrestling certainly has enough global friends to do enough lobbying before then. That may well change, but as of now, I wouldn’t count on it coming back.
“The core sports of the ancient Olympics were running and wrestling, and by virtually every measure that the IOC uses, wrestling should be there,” Powers argued. “It may not be as telegenic as some of the other sports, but goodness knows, it’s more telegenic than modern pentathlon is.”