IN A STUNNING decision this week, the International Olympic Committee executive board voted to drop wrestling from the Summer Games beginning in 2020.
Yes, the sport that was in the original Greek Olympic Games and was a core sport in the modern Olympics since it began in 1896 has been voted out of the event that is the target goal of every wrestler to ever don a singlet.
As a former All-Air Force wrestling team member, I can tell you that every military wrestler’s goal during Olympic trials year is to win the interservice championship and get an invite to the Olympic Trials. It is the dream of every collegiate wrestler, every high school wrestler, and every youth wrestler in the United States.
While collegiate wrestling took a huge hit by Title IX in 1972, 95 college wrestling teams have been added since 1999, primarily in Divisions II, III and the NAIA. It is the sixth most popular high school boys sport in the United States, with more than 270,000 participants, and it growing in popularity among females. The SCHSL State Duals Championship had a female wrestler win the 106-pound division in the A/2A final.
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My concern over this decision is the potential impact on collegiate wrestling, which could have a trickle-down effect on the prep level. With the economy as it is and wrestling being considered a “non-revenue” sport, without it being an Olympic event, I fear we would see the collegiate programs begin to fade away as we did in the 1970s and ’80s. And if the collegiate climate shrinks down, it could have the same effect down to the high school programs, particularly smaller schools.
Despite wrestling being one of the least costly sports programs to operate at the high school level, some schools may look at the combination of the lack of “next level” opportunities for their athletes and the costs of funding the program and decide to cut it from the athletics budgets, which also are shrinking or disappearing.
I’m not Chicken Little running around saying that the sky is falling. If wrestling is kept out of the Olympics, the effects will not be felt immediately, nor will they be felt nationwide. Conferences such as the Big Ten and Big 12 will be safe, as they are powerhouses and produce “Olympian” wrestlers. But smaller Division-I collegiate programs could be impacted as boards of trustees think about revenue. The results could be seen at the high school level possibly 10 or 15 years from now.
The fight is not over, however.
Wrestlers are grapplers, fighters. And once a wrestler, always a wrestler. The international wrestling community has come together in the past 24 hours and applied some pressure, calling out the IOC and their “behind closed door, secret ballot” ways. It all comes down to politics. There hasn’t been a wrestling (FILA) IOC member for over a decade. One of the other sports up for the chopping block, the modern Pentathlon, does. The son of a former IOC president, Juan Samaranch Jr. is the vice president of the Modern Pentathlon Union, and used to practice the sport himself. He also has one of the coveted 15 spots on the IOC Executive Board, which is the board that voted out wrestling.
In May, wrestling will join baseball and softball (joint venture), along with wakeboarding, squash, karate, sport climbing, roller sports and wushu at a chance to be included in the 2020 Olympics, which will be decided by the IOC. If you’d like to join in on the support to save this sport, you can visit themat.com, which is the website for USA Wrestling. On their site, there is a link titled “Join the Cause” that will keep you informed and let you know what you can do to help.