Wrestling’s Removed from the Olympics

The Olympics are not your typical sporting event. The competitions are not usually the popular games that Americans have come to love and follow on a daily basis. While basketball and hockey do make appearances in the Games, spots are typically reserved for more traditional sports that aren’t necessarily as popular in the U.S..

Certain sports, like swimming, skiing and track and field tend to be staples of the Olympics. These sports seem to be deeply entrenched in the history of the Olympics, which is why the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) announcement that wrestling will be pulled from the Summer Olympics beginning in 2020 came as a surprise to many.

Citing the lack of general interest in the sport, the IOC has said that wrestling will have to make itself more exciting and find a way to generate more interest if it wants to return to the Olympics. Wrestling will compete with seven other sports – baseball, softball, Chinese martial arts, squash and karate — for the last spot at the 2020 Olympic Games. In terms of national sports, baseball and softball have to be the most popular sports out of those. Does that mean that it should become an Olympic sport? Baseball doesn’t have the history that karate and wrestling have, but it is certainly more popular. 

The question is, then, what constitutes an Olympic sport? What makes one competition more worthy of being played on the international stage than another? 

The essence of the problem is a conflict between money and tradition. As sacred and well-respected as the Olympic Games are, they still are a business. The IOC needs to worry about being profitable and sustainable, but at what point does money-making start to take away from the sanctity of the Olympics?

The IOC limits the number of sports per Summer Olympics to 28, which is part of the explanation for the extermination of wrestling, but when the committee is adding sports like Bicycle Motocross (BMX added in 2008) at the expense of wrestling, it makes you wonder about the future of the Olympics. 

The Olympics are currently at a crossroads, and the commitee needs to

determine what the true identity of the games should be. Is it just a compilation of sporting events designed to make money? Or, is it a competition with roots in ancient athletic events that should aim to merge the past and the present into a product that is distinctively different than the current prototypical sporting events?

Maybe we should consider the fans’ perspectives. The committee could decide based on what the average person wants to watch. Is your average fan looking for a unique sporting event, or will a different kind of sport that he or she doesn’t understand easily bore them?

There are benefits and drawbacks to each plan. The historical version of the games values the past and purity of the Olympics, but the issue is the profitability. The commercial plan does the opposite. Unfortunately, the IOC cannot try to please both crowds. It cannot just stand in the middle and hope to appease both sides. Lately, NBC’s Olympics ratings have been unfavorable, and there have been complaints about the Olympics not staying true to its roots. 

It is possible that the issue could be with the presentation, rather than the sports

themselves. It might be time to update historical sports to make them appeal more to this generation. Maybe wrestling needs to become quicker paced or more technically advanced, or maybe fans just need to become more educated about the nuances of the sport. The committee should apply this outlook to other sports, like weightlifting and fencing, to keep viewers interested and make the outcomes less predictable.

In order for sports to appeal to fans, people need to understand the rules of the game. The committee should create a list of every simple rule for each sport so every viewer can follow along. I’ve honestly been trying to figure out how equestrian works for the longest time. 

No matter what side of the argument you fall on, the future of the Olympics is certainly up in the air. Will the money win or will history prevail? Can we find a balance that pleases everyone?

As for the committee voting to remove wrestling? A simple solution might be to send a few wrestlers to an IOC meeting – that’ll definitely set those guys straight.