I would have figured that by now, sensible heads would prevail. But then again, we’re dealing with the International Olympic Committee.
As of this writing, wrestling is still out of the 2020 Olympic Games.
I know it’s incredible. It was stunning enough when the IOC announced Feb. 12 that they voted to remove the sport in the first place, replacing it with what, we don’t know just yet but electing to keep the “sport” most experts figured would go – modern pentathlon.
That is a combination of fencing, horse riding – show jumping – along with 200-meter freestyle swimming, running and pistol shooting. The founder of the modern Olympic movement, French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, created it in 1912 for the Stockholm Games.
Frankly, it sounds like something a baron would think up just so royalty could compete in the Games while maintaining a safe distance from the unwashed masses.
Wait, this just in – the IOC has announced a replacement for wrestling – ultra royal fisbin, a combination of modified Texas Hold ‘em, Frisbee, Mortal Kombat (latest edition of course), water piggyback riding and lawn darts (without the points).
Never mind that wrestling has been an Olympic sport since the modern games resumed in 1896. Wrestling was one of the original Olympic competitions – you know, the ones that began back in Athens over two millennia ago, 776 B.C. to be precise.
OK, according to Wikepedia, it didn’t originate with the 776 Games. It was added – for the 708 B.C. Games.
Running was the first events staged for the ancient games, followed later by wrestling, the pentathlon – you know, running, wrestling, javelin, discus and long jump. Chariot racing also made it in, but it was a competition between owners, not riders and horses.
Breaking news – NASCAR has been added to the 2020 Games, with Go Daddy the favorite to win gold.
OK, back to wrestling. According to the Associated Press story, the committee used 39 criteria like TV ratings, ticket sales and global participation and popularity, in its decision on which sports to keep and which to axe, but with no official rankings.
According to IOC documents, wrestling ranked low in popularity with the ticket going public last summer in London. Of the 116,854 tickets available, only 113,851 were sold.
So in the committee’s view, you sell 97.43 percent of your tickets, and that signifies low popularity, a 5 on a scale of 10. Really? Thank God we don’t have that around here or Eastern Washington University’s only sport would be football - maybe - and Washington State University wouldn’t have any intercollegiate athletics.
Modern pentathlon’s general popularity ranking at London was 5.2.
In a related story, AP just announced that apple pie is no longer going to contain apples.
Which brings me to global participation and popularity. Modern pentathlon has 108 nations in their world organization, the international wrestling federation; a.k.a Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées (FILA) has 177.
I searched the web to see what I could find in the way of a relation between modern pentathlon and our K-12 and collegiate school systems and was not successful. Wrestling on the other hand has a strong tie, with 49 of 50 states – Arkansas added it in 2008-09 – having high school associations, and while not all colleges still offer the sport, locally, North Idaho College just won a co-championship at the national junior college level.
In saying all this I’m not minimizing the athleticism of those who compete in modern pentathlon. All five of those events require skill, training and endurance individually, let alone collectively.
But in announcing the committee’s decision, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said they didn’t look at “what’s wrong with wrestling,” but what’s right about their 25 core sports.
Frankly, when you talk about something that is “core” it signifies something basic, something solid which all else wraps around.
That’s wrestling, and it shouldn’t be removed from the Olympic core.
As for its future in the Olympics, there’s still a chance for reinstatement, but it will have to compete with other sports like baseball/softball, karate, roller sports and even wakeboarding. Whether it will ever return as a “core” sport remains to be seen, and may boil down to wrestling supporters, and the media, ability to pressure the IOC – even to the point of embarrassment.
Stop the presses – vanilla ice cream has been banned from freezer cases due to its being, well, just too vanilla.
(Editor’s note: I wrote this column before syndicated sports columnist and Texas Hold ‘Em guru Norm Chad wrote his. But, brilliant minds think alike.)
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.