Another View -- Steven H. Biondolillo: Why the IOC should reconsider its wrestling decision
Like many, my initial reaction to learning that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had decided to drop the sport of wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games was laughter. Was this a joke? How could the IOC eliminate from Olympic competition men's and women's wrestling? The IOC may as well have dropped track and field and boxing. As every student of sport knows, wrestling is one of the five original sports of both the ancient and modern Olympic Games. In fact, ancient Greek history teaches us that the most heralded athletes of the ancient games were the wrestlers.
Cited by the IOC as rationale for its decision is the "declining popularity" of the sport. The IOC really needs to check its sources and facts. In the United States, wrestling has never ranked lower than the fifth most-practiced sport at the high school level, and its recent losses at the NCAA level are reversing: In the past few years an entire national collegiate club wrestling universe has taken root, and a dozen Division II and III colleges have introduced the sport. Furthermore, in terms of participation, youth wrestling for both boys and girls is at a historic high.
I have two words for the International Olympic Committee: mixed martial arts and United States Navy SEALS. (OK, that's more than two words, but you get the drift.) Other than the four major sports, mixed martial arts may be the most popular televised athletic spectacle in the world. In fact, it resembles almost precisely pankration, which is the form of wrestling that was contested in the Ancient Olympic Games. It turns out that virtually all mixed martial arts contestants, as well as the most successful of the sport's practitioners, are, first and foremost, wrestlers.
But most importantly, consider this reality: We live in very unstable times and depend on the deployment of special forces to protect American interests here and abroad, and to keep Americans safe. And now this fact: The US Navy SEALS proactively recruit candidates disproportionately from the sport of wrestling. Why? Because it will always take the leanest, toughest and most accountable individuals in the world to execute the world's most difficult and dangerous work assignments.
And, lastly, this bit of trivia: Until World War II, the one sport practiced more than any other by men who would become President of the United States (including Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, Taylor, Arthur, Taft, T. Roosevelt, and Coolidge) was wrestling.
I offer this data because the IOC has advanced as rationale for maintaining the sport of modern pentathlon in the 2020 Olympic Games the "fact" that modern pentathlon will enable the Olympic Games to retain some of its "rich feel of the past." About this chestnut I have two things to say: Modern pentathlon was part of neither the ancient Olympic Games nor the initial palette of sports in the modern games. So much for the "rich feel of the past" argument. Furthermore, the last time I checked, no more than a dozen people on all of earth practiced it.
The fact that the sport of wrestling was politically outmuscled by modern pentathlon's legions of supporters has provided an unprecedented geopolitical opportunity for the United States, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Chechnya, Poland, Bulgaria, Sweden, Iran, Japan, Turkey and Cuba to mount forces against their common enemy: the IOC. You see, these countries are among the leading practitioners of wrestling - mankind's oldest sport. But the most important thing to contemplate now is that wrestling is not just mankind's oldest sport. It is, in fact, the very metaphor for sport itself. How is it, then, that the IOC - the standard bearer of all sport - is killing, in the Olympic Games, sport itself? Hence, I end where I began: Are they joking?
Steven H. Biondolillo serves on the board of directors of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame-Massachusetts Chapter. He is a former Division I college wrestling coach and competitor in the 1980 Canadian Olympic Team Trials in freestyle wrestling.