Elimination of Wrestling Shows that Advertising Dollars Trump Olympic Ideals
The Olympic Games will need to write a new anthem for 2020 as one of the only sports mentioned by name in the original anthem will no longer be a part of the games. On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee recommended that the sport of wrestling be dropped from the Olympic program for the year 2020. The justification for the drop was vague and seems to go against the very core of Olympic values and ideals. The immediate backlash against the IOC has been tremendous. An avalanche of negative news articles and reports have questioned the IOC’s honesty, integrity, and goals in this decision. In eliminating a sport such as wrestling that embodies the Olympic values in favor of sports that bring in revenue, the IOC has proven that its number one priority is money, and not the development of the Olympic ideals.
The Olympic games should uphold the purity of sport and there simply is no purer form of sport than wrestling. It is known as the world’s oldest sport, with depictions of wrestling appearing in some of the world’s oldest documents. Young kids naturally gravitate towards wrestling. They wrestle with each other and with their parents as often as possible. The purity of the sport is also reflected in the actual competition of wrestling. The sport requires no foreign implements, expensive equipment or membership fees which allows even the most impoverished individuals and nations to participate. There are no hoops, balls, sticks or nets. There is only two bodies and two minds struggling against each other. There are no time-outs and no teammates to rely on or blame. Wrestling is athletics boiled down to its most basic elements. To eliminate it from the Olympic program does not match with the values and ideals that the Olympics claim to promote.
One of the projects that the IOC has been promoting (read: pay lip service to) is “Sport for All”. This program is designed to help promote sports in under-privileged areas and give people of all genders, sizes, and economic backgrounds access to sport. No sport embodies “Sport for All” more than wrestling. Too short to play basketball? You can wrestle. Not big enough for football? You can wrestle. Too slow for track? You can wrestle. Tall, skinny, short, stout? You can use any of these attributes to your advantage in wrestling. Go to a wrestling tournament and you can see males and females from the age of five competing in youth tournaments up to old folks in their 60′s competing in masters tournaments. There have been successful wrestlers who were blind or deaf, who had one leg, no legs and even no arms. Anyone from a skinny, 60 lb 11 year old girl to a massive and muscular 260 lb 28 year old man can aspire to achieve and better themselves through wrestling. By comparison, when choosing to eliminate wrestling, the IOC chose to keep or add elitist country club sports such as golf, tennis, sailing, equestrian and modern pentathlon. Why? Because the IOC’s priority is not “Sport for All” or inclusiveness, it is attracting elite, wealthy sponsors that will support the advertising platform that the Olympics has become.
Along with inclusiveness, worldwide participation in sports is one of the key criteria that the IOC uses to determine a sports Olympic potential. In terms of worldwide scope, the only sports that can compete with wrestling are soccer and running. Wrestling has existed in some form in every culture in human history and can be seen described in mankind’s earliest writings and cave drawings. Wrestling plays an important cultural role in many parts of the world, with wrestling competitions coinciding with important religious or national holidays. Almost two hundred nations fielded wrestling teams last year. At last year’s Olympic games, wrestling medals were won by 29 different nations, from all corners of the globe. This is in stark contrast to the 12 nations that won modern pentathlon medals, all of which were from western Europe and the U.S.A. The wide appeal of wrestling was recently captured in an interview with 2x Olympic champion John Smith when he said “Wrestling has almost one million participants in the U.S.A. Most of the sports (the IOC) decided to keep don’t have one million participants worldwide.” It may be starting to sound repetitive, but meeting the IOC’s criteria for inclusion in the games is obviously not enough when weighed against the revenue that other sports might bring.
Possibly the worst thing about the IOC’s decision is how transparently biased it is. This was a decision made by a group of upper-crust, European white men in favour of sports that are dominated by upper crust, European white men. The politics of the decision become even more clear when you learn that the wrestling community had no representation throughout the decision making process, while modern pentathlon, a sport that succeeded in avoiding elimination had members present throughout the entire process. Things seem even more biased and preposterous when we learn that the representative for modern pentathlon is Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of former head of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch. If something smells rotten, it’s probably because it is.
While the IOC’s decision to eliminate wrestling is obviously flawed, biased, money driven and contrary to the Olympic ideals, the worst thing about it is that it will limit the exposure of the sport to people who need it. Wrestling is a sport that stays with you. Becoming a wrestler is a life changing experience. The sport has saved many lives, been a safe haven for those who did not feel safe anywhere else, and given a sense of family and community to many people who lacked it in the rest of their lives. It has taught countless individuals how to persevere through the toughest hardships and that there is almost nothing that hard work can’t overcome. I know that I owe much of who and what I am to the sport of wrestling. I am lucky to have been influenced by a great number of tremendous coaches and teammates, and as a coach have been able to have some small impact on the lives of young wrestlers. With the elimination of wrestling from the Olympic program, I fear that these opportunities and positive outcomes will be less and less.
To finish this article I want to leave a collection of quotes gathered from wrestlers over the last few days testifying to the importance of the sport in their lives.
“Wrestling drastically changed the course of my life. The path I could have taken if I had not discovered wrestling was dark.”
- AJ Cook, 2x NCWA National Champion
“Wrestling taught me hard work, dedication, strength through adversity, along with strong core moral values such as brotherhood and loyalty that I took with me after I left the sport.”
– Brendan Beyer, former NCAA div.III wrestler
“Wrestling taught me that brotherhood and family really is about blood… blood, sweat, cauliflower ears and a strong desire engage my fellow man in competition for the benefit of our souls. I’m a different man for it, a better man.”
- Matthew Lawrence, National silver medalist.
“Without question the closet people in my life are my coaches, teammates, and training partners of past and present. The IOC’s decision may break our hearts and crush our dreams but could never touch the bonds and relationships formed because of the love for Our sport.”
- Alexi Kreps, current Lakehead Univeristy varsity wrestler.
“The life changing, positive effects gained through wrestling are unfathomable to those who haven’t wrestled.”
– Andrew Larson, Former CIS wrestler
“I played all the sports growing up, but it was only wrestling that truly changed my life. The sport instilled in me the values and developed those skills in me (and many around me) that allowed me to overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges that life throws at you”
- Greg Cappuccitti, former national champion, current coach of Matmen Wrestling Club.
“Being the children of a single mother, wrestling was one of the sports that were affordable for us. Once we stepped in that room we were no longer under priveledged kids, we were no longer boys or girls, we were “two arms, two legs and a beating heart with a whole lot of guts, because wrestling, it’s not easy” It’s one of the first things I remember my coach saying. We were all treated as equals, from the rookies in the room to the talented accomplished wrestlers in the room. We landed ourselves in this community of people who were passionate about their sport, and were willing to help you out if needed. My first pair of boots were given to me, my first singlets were sewn by the mother of a girl on my team. We lived far SE in the city and the U was far NW, so another teammate’s mom would pick us up after practice, serve us a hot meal she’d whipped up at home before coming, and drove us 45 minutes across the city, 5 days a week. It gave me a safe place to go, with people who were invested in seeing me succeed. “Velasquez, you DON’T give up, you get back up, you be the first back to that circle and you give it your all, show her what your made of, that’s all I’m asking of you” words that have been applicable to countless challenges in my life. The wrestling community always made me feel as though I was an important part of this community we built. I may not have been the greatest wrestler there ever was but it’s a HUGE part of who I am, I will always be thankful for the life lessons I learned.
- Juliana Maria Velasquez, former Calgary Dinos wrestler
“Things wrestling gave me… My first sense of self-worth. My first workout that made me dry heave. Rides in vans with bunches of black and brown dudes. Pull ups. Ropes. Suicides. My highest highs. My most questioning lows. The earliest morning alarm clocks. The most nervous sleeps. The nastiest ears. The strangest group of friends. My education. The tools to impact kids lives. The courage, determination and belief in myself to see a goal through.”
- Derek Begley, former Macmaster and Lakehead University wrestler.
A proud, former Lakehead University wrestler, Brent Fryia is Top MMA News’ resident Wrestling expert and has contributed a series of articles about his experiences training in Korea entitled ‘Wayguk Fighter‘.