To truly understand the lunacy behind the International Olympic Committee’s recently announced decision to drop wrestling from the Olympic program for the 2020 Games, one need only learn of the events that comprise the modern pentathlon, a sport that was deemed more worthy of continuance.
- Pistol shooting;
- 200 metre freestyle swimming;
- Show jumping; and
- Three kilometre cross-country run.
The competition is referred to as the modern pentathlon as a means of differentiating itself from the original pentathlon of the ancient Olympic Games. The events of the unlikely forefather were much different than those contested as part of today’s pentathlon.
- 180 metre dash;
- Long jump;
- Discus; and
Yes, wrestling, in a certain sense, helped beget a bastardized competition that is now an Olympic sport while it is not. However, the IOC wasn’t attempting to make a literary reference with this almost appropriately Oedipal turn of events.
According to IOC spokesperson Mark Adams:
This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics. In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the 25 core sports.
So, then how did the executive board reach such a view?
According to sources with which The Associated Press spoke, several rounds of secret ballots resulted in wrestling, modern pentathlon, tae kwon do and field hockey all being considered for removal from the Games. After reviewing an IOC commissioned report that analyzed “television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity” the 15-member board made a decision based on
This is because … of course.
Of course, it would be entirely too much to make such a decision based solely on practical data. Of course, it would be entirely too much to offer a shred of transparency to a decision that affects thousands. Of course, it would be entirely too much to not include additional subjective criteria that allows the organization to further its own agenda through every decision that it makes.
The temptation exists to claim that ”political, emotional and sentimental factors” is merely code for bribery. Given that the IOC teeters and totters on an ideal status, overseeing sports which world governments deem important enough to spend large amounts of money to foster and promote, but not important enough to regulate with anything resembling an iron fist, you could be forgiven.
It would be even more difficult to judge those making connections between seemingly odd decisions and the organization’s past which includes a proclivity for indiscretions more common than strained ligaments in a wrestler. Since the winter of 1998, when ten members of the IOC were expelled and another ten were sanctioned following Marc Hodler’s whistle blowing announcement that several members of his committee had taken bribes in the lead up to the 2002 Winter Games, several more controversies have erupted.
In addition to IOC members taking bribes for the Salt Lake City Games, more were linked to improprieties in the bidding for the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics. In 2006, a report commissioned by the Nagano governor found that the Japanese city provided millions of dollars – including $4.4 million for entertainment - to IOC members through “illegitimate and excessive levels of hospitality.” After holding the 2008 Games in China despite the pleadings of several worldwide human rights groups, the IOC was nominated in 2010 for a Public Eye Award, designed as a ”shame-on-you-award to the nastiest corporate players of the year.”
However, this isn’t the place for you-gotta-ask-the-question journalism, and it’s neither fruitful nor necessary to assume that the cancellation of wrestling from the Olympic program is the result of bribery. It’s simply not that directly insidious. That’s not to suggest that ulterior motives weren’t present in this decision because we’re certainly directed that way by the comments of Klaus Schorman, president of Union International de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM).
We have promised things and we have delivered. That gives me a great feeling. It also gives me new energy to develop our sport further and never give up.
More important than misconstruing Schormann’s comments to confirm our preconceived suspicions is the reputation that the head of the sports governing body made for himself throughout this process. The Associated Press refers to Schormann as having “lobbied hard to protect his sport’s Olympic status and it paid off in the end.” By keeping the modern pentathlon in the Games at the expense of wrestling despite the event’s lack of worldwide popularity, the IOC reinforces the importance of lobbying and fraternization between the governing bodies of sports and its members. This is what all of the subjective criteria comes down to. It allows the IOC to continue to receive attention, and maintains the long-standing culture of dependency based on favors and even more corrupt behavior.
This is the culture that was created under former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who in transforming the Olympic Games into the spectacle that we now know it to be, introduced a measure of political savviness, a necessary evil for successful dealings with nations around the world. Unfortunately, such machinations are prone to corruption, and it was under his leadership that the IOC came under fire for its acceptance of bribery in the form of money and gifts. Samaranch was a former sports official in Spain under the fascist Franco regime, where this type of corruption of government officials was rampant. Both fairly, and unfairly, the association with his past was never easily dismissed during his reign as head of the IOC.
Samaranch may have stepped down from the post in the summer of 2001, and passed away in 2010, but just like his unforgotten past, his legacy continues to be remembered. Perhaps this is best seen in the continued proliferation of the lobbyist culture in the aristocratic organization, where the voice of Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president, a UIPM vice-president and member of the IOC board, could be heard.
We were considered weak in some of the scores in the program commission report but strong in others. We played our cards to the best of our ability and stressed the positives. Tradition is one of our strongest assets, but we are also a multi-sport discipline that produces very complete people.
The “tradition” of which Samaranch Jr. speaks cannot be of the athletic variety where wrestling’s past outlasts the modern pentathlon by milleniums, and so we must assume it’s the past implemented by his father.
Of course, like the best Olympic narratives, there is a chance that wrestling, which featured 344 athletes competing in 18 medal events in both freestyle and Greco-Roman at the 2012 London Olympics, will emerge victorious in its pursuit of inclusion after overcoming great obstacles. The sport will now join seven others in the application process for the 2020 Games.
Its competition for the single spot:
- Baseball and softball;
- Roller sports;
- Sport climbing;
- Wakeboarding; and
- Wushu (a Chinese martial art).
May the best lobbyist win.