Wrestling fighting for Olympic future after dropped from core sports

Tuesday, 12 February 2013
By Duncan Mackay at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne

wrestling at London 2012February 12 - Wrestling faces being removed from the Olympics after it was dropped from the list of core sports despite having appeared in every Games, except one, since 1896.

The decision here by the International Olympic Committee''s (IOC) ruling Executive Board to remove it after Rio 2016 means that modern pentathlon, which had been the favourite to be dropped, will keep its place on the Olympic programme. 

Wrestling will now have to vie with seven other sports, baseball/softball, squash, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu, to be added back into the programme for the 2020 Olympics in Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo when the full IOC Session meets in September.

But its fate has effectively been sealed by today's decision, even though wrestling's Olympic heritage stretches back to 708BC when it appeared in the Ancient Games.

It was included at Athens when the Olympics were revived in 1896 and had appeared in every Games since, apart from Paris in1900.

Wrestling at London 1908Wrestling has a long Olympic heritage, having appeared in almost every Games since Athens 1896, including at London 1908, when Britain were the most successful country with 11 medals

All 26 sports which had appeared at London 2012 were theoretically under threat.

But the 14 member Executive Board, excluding the non-voting IOC President Jacques Rogge, had started the day seriously discussing the future of just five sports, which also included canoeing, hockey and taekwondo. 

Wrestling was always the leader in a race no-one wanted to be out in front of.

In the first round they and modern pentathlon each polled five votes with hockey getting two and canoeing and taekwondo once.

In the second wrestling got seven votes, modern pentathlon four with canoeing, hockey and taekwondo one.

In a run-off, canoeing ensured its survival with three votes compared to hockey's six and taekwondo five.

Taekwondo was then eliminated when no-one voted for them in the fourth round as six voted for wrestling, five for modern pentathlon and three for hockey.

In the final vote it was between hockey, modern pentathlon and wrestling. 

Wrestling lost, as eight members voted for them, with hockey and modern pentathlon getting three.

Many had expected modern pentathlon, a sport devised by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympics,and which had been on the Olympic programme continuously since Stockholm at 1912 to be the most at threat. 

But a late rearguard action, led by Juan Antonio Samaranch, son of the former IOC President and a vice-president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union (UIPM), saved it. 

The fact hockey was in the final three was a major surprise and should force the sport into a major re-evaluation. 

Hockey at London 2012Hockey was a big success at London 2012 but it still nearly faced the axe from the Olympics

It main problem, insidethegames understands, is that many IOC members see it as a Commonwealth sport with its roots in the British Empire, although the gold medallists at London 2012 were Germany in the men's and the Netherlands in the women's, retaining the titles they had won at Beijing four years earlier. 

The eight sports, including wrestling, bidding for inclusion in the 2020 are scheduled to make presentations to the Executive Board at its meeting in St Petersburg at the end of May.

The Executive Board will select which of the eight sports to recommend to the Session for inclusion as an additional sport on the 2020 programme.

Karate and squash are the favourites to win the nomination.

A total of 29 countries shared the 71 wrestling medals at London 2012, with Russia topping the table.

Dzhamal Otarsultanov London 2012Russia's Dzhamal Otarsultanov on his way to victory in the 55kg category at London 2012

They won a total of 11 medals, four of them gold, including Dzhamal Otarsultanov in the men's 55kg category, narrowly pipping Japan, who also won four gold. 

Countries as diverse as Azerbaijan, Georgia, India, Puerto Rico and Mongolia all won medals as 344 athletes from 71 nations competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman took part at London 2012.

''It was up to the executive Board members to make a decision, it was not black and white and it was not an easy decision, but we wanted to allow room for the renewal of the Olympic programme,'' said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

"This is not the end of the process, this is purely a recommendation.

"This is not about what's wrong with wrestling but what is good for the Games."

The reaction, however, among the wrestling community was one of shock, particularly at the FILA, the International Wrestling Federation.

"FILA was greatly astonished by today's recommendation of the IOC Executive Board not to maintain wrestling among the 25 core sports for the 2020 Olympic Games," they said in a statement.

"FILA will take all necessary measures to convince the IOC Executive Board and IOC members of the aberration of such decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games.

"FILA has always complied with the IOC regulations and is reprensented in 180 countries, with wrestling being the national sport in a fair amount of them and the only possibility for athletes to represent their country at the Olympic Games, thus contributing to their universality."

The shock was also felt in Britain.

"The news from the IOCis extremely disappointing," said Colin Nicholson, chief executive of British Wrestling.

"We hope that wrestling will be added back to the programme when the full IOC meet in September.

"If wrestling is taken out of the Olympics it will be a great disappointment as it is an extremely popular sport around the world."

Contact the writer of this story at duncan.mackay@insidetehgames.biz

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