Wrestling to get the Olympic axe?

By Avalon Doyle, Contributor

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on February 12 that wrestling—one of the first Olympic sports—might not be included in the 2020 Olympic Games. The sport currently sits on a list with six other sports, including wakeboarding, roller sports, and squash, with only one being included for 2020.

The news has shocked the wrestling community around the world and is generating a fierce protest from athletes and non-athletes alike. No specific reason was given for why wrestling was targeted, with some saying wrestling has not done enough to show the IOC their importance to the games. Dori Yeats, a national and world champion from Montreal said, “I almost think that the IOC’s decision wasn’t so much to punish wrestlers as it was to cause change in the FILA organization.” And already that change has started. Just a few days after the IOC announced their decision, Raphael Martinetti resigned from his position as president of the international governing body of wrestling, FILA.

Though some people have called the decision shocking, it hasn’t been without some foreshadowing. In 2000 FILA changed the rules to try and make wrestling a more spectator-friendly sport by making three, two-minute rounds instead of two, three-minute rounds. Then, in 2004—when they granted women a spot in the sport for the Olympics—the IOC made clear they weren’t giving wrestling any more space; they simply eliminated two weight classes from each style of men’s wrestling (freestyle and Greco-Roman) to give women four weight classes.

Danielle Lappage, a Simon Fraser University student, four time national wrestling champion, and 2010 world champion said the decision was also partly based on popularity. “The IOC has said wrestling doesn’t have enough ticket sales and television views, but meets every other criteria. It comes down to money.”

So what does this decision mean for wrestling? While many of the other sports included in the Olympics have a wide following outside the games, for wrestlers, the Olympics are the ultimate goal and many fear for the future of wrestling if it is not part of the games.

“For hockey, golf, or tennis, their ultimate goal is not the Olympics. For example, hockey has the Stanley Cup, and golf has the PGA tour. For a wrestler, the Olympics are the ultimate goal. That’s as far as it goes,” said Lappage.

“The worst part is how sad it will be for American and Canadian kids, who maybe couldn’t afford other sports, who won’t be able to work towards that dream. Kids who come from Cuban and Indian slums won’t get that same chance for glory,” a chance that Lappage says is unique to wrestling. “You can wrestle in the dirt. No other sport gives you that chance.”

Wrestling is also a sport with a long history of unlikely countries forming bonds, despite external political turmoil. There’s no clearer example of this than Russia, Iran, and the USA who announced they would be working together to try to save the ancient sport. Iran, who hosted the World Cup of Wrestling this past week, had fans and athletes from all over the world take a moment at the event to join hands as a symbol of their strength and unity as a sport community. On May 16, USA Wrestling plans to host an “International Wrestling Day” in Times Square, New York City. The event will feature a dual against Iran to showcase wrestling to the public.

As for here in Vancouver and the rest of Canada, members of the wrestling community are working together and using social media to get the word out and get communities involved. “We’re all protesting and signing petitions,” says Yeats. There are also numerous Facebook and Twitter accounts dedicated to saving the historic sport.

“Wrestling is a small community. When you get to a high enough level, everyone knows each other and everyone is there for the love of wrestling,” says Lappage.

Both Lappage and Yeats, who are contenders for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, feel confident that the IOC will decide to include Olympics in the September vote. “I don’t think any other sport has caused this much upset,” said Yeats.

“I have a good feeling about the vote in September,” Lappage agreed. “It’s not just wrestlers who are upset; it’s a worldwide community that’s upset about the decision.”