"In an effort to ensure the Olympic Games remain relevant to sports fans of all generations, the Olympic Programme Commission systematically reviews every sport following each edition of the Games."
- IOC media release, 12.2.13
The International Olympic Committee voted yesterday to effectively axe wrestling from the 2020 Olympics. Hardly anyone seems to think that this was a good idea.
The IOC has a long history of murky voting processes ending in odd decisions, mostly when selecting host cities for each Games, but the vote to remove one the Olympic movement's truly iconic sports, when most expected modern pentathlon to get the chop, is further evidence of a top-heavy organisation where process clouds objective.
The IOC's Executive Board met in Lausanne on February 12 to choose which 25 of the 26 current Olympic sports would be the "core events" for the 2020 Games. The one eliminated would go into a bidding process along with seven other shortlisted sports for admission for 2020 - the decision to be made in September around the same time that the host city for those Games will be announced.
The outcome saw wrestling, which has been a part of all but one modern Olympic Games since inception in 1896, excluded from the "core" twenty-five. The other sports vying for inclusion in 2020 are karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding, wushu, while baseball and softball have merged their governing bodies to submit a joint bid after both being excluded from the 2012 and 2016 Games.
Wrestling's governing body FILA was, unsurprisingly, shocked at the decision, and are planning their course of action, but it appears to be too late. The other seven sports are well advanced in their presentations and bids to the IOC (including structural change in the case of IBAF), with a recommendation likely to be made at the IOC Executive Board meeting to be held in conjunction with the SportAccord Convention in St Petersburg in May.
Squash appears to be the current favourite for admission for 2020, although there are suggestions that the departure of wrestling may favour karate if they choose to replace with another combat sport.
The voting process in Lausanne on Tuesday saw five sports go into the first ballot for elimination: canoeing, hockey, modern pentathlon, taekwondo and wrestling. Canoeing was excluded from the ballot after the first two rounds of voting, taekwondo removed after third round.
In the fourth round of balloting, the fourteen IOC Executive Board members (with president Jacques Rogge not taking part) cast 8 votes for wrestling to be eliminated from the Games, 3 votes for hockey and 3 votes for modern pentathlon.
If ratified by the IOC Executive Board at St Petersburg in May, the removal of wrestling would be devastating for the future of one of the permanent features of the modern Olympics, and one of the few with any linkage to the ancient games. Many countries in central and western Asia place an emphasis on wrestling in the Olympic teams.
The decision has also met with outrage in India, where every medal won is still seen as a rare and precious triumph.
The full rundown of the wrestling tournament at the 2012 London Olympics can be explored on the official London 2012 website while the brilliant Sports-Reference.com can take you through the complete legacy of Olympic wrestling since 1896.
Finally, in case you want to argue that wrestling is neither telegenic nor relevant to the 21st century, I give you Roy and HG's coverage from Sydney 2000: