Wrestling’s biggest fight: Getting back in the Games

Modern pentathlon seemed to be the likeliest sport to be eliminated from the Olympic program. Then perhaps taekwondo. Maybe an outside chance of one of the Asian-dominated net sports, badminton and table tennis.

Wrestling? If you saw that coming, consider taking your psychic talents to Wall Street or Vegas.

“A surprise decision,” says the AP. “A shocking move,” says Yahoo’s Maggie Hendricks.

But is it a final decision? Maybe not.

AP puts it like this:

Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. They will be vying for a single opening in 2020.

The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It is extremely unlikely that wrestling would be voted back in so soon after being removed by the executive board.

If the federation facing the axe was the tiny modern pentathlon federation or the dysfunctional taekwondo federation, then yes, getting back in the Games would be nearly impossible.

But wrestling’s federation, FILA? Don’t be too sure. To mangle John Paul Jones’ famous quote, FILA has not yet begun to lobby.

And the international outcry is sure to be monstrous. Have you ever wanted to see the USA and Iran join forces? Get ready, ’cause here it comes.

The facts are on wrestling’s side. The last time the IOC went through this process, they released their report on each sport. A few numbers for consideration (from 2009, but it’s hard to imagine too much has changed since then):

  • Wrestling has 167 active national federations. Other sports: Archery 139, equestrian 133, field hockey 122, triathlon 116, modern pentathlon 104. (Taekwondo, surprisingly, has a healthy 186.)
  • The “average minute of TV coverage” of wrestling in the 2008 Olympics was watched by 29.5 million people globally. Field hockey: 11.8 million. Fencing: 24.3 million. Badminton: 21.2 million. Team handball: 23.3 million. Sailing: 24.5 million. Triathlon: 19.4 million. Modern pentathlon: 23.1 million. Even tennis was lower: 26.1 million. (Swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting (?!) and track and field are the big draws, as you’d expect — 40 million to 65 million. Table tennis was also over 40 million, so the people complaining about “ping pong” might want to adjust their arguments.)

Now wrestling is battling for a spot against the combined baseball/softball bid, karate, squash, roller sports (speed skating), sport climbing, wakeboarding (a modified version that will confuse the heck out of U.S. viewers) and wushu. That’s a battle wrestlers should be able to win.

Then the other sports can get back in line and hope the IOC comes to its senses next time and reverses its ludicrous decision to add golf, where the costs far outweigh the benefits. Perhaps other federations can merge, as baseball and softball are doing, to try to sneak another sport into the Games.

So take heart, wrestlers. There’s a lot of time left on the clock.


MMA and karate questions: What have UFC and IOC learned?

The increasingly indispensable Morning Report at MMAFighting.com is a fun read today that also raises a lot of questions:

Jon Jones says the UFC has “learned a lesson” about offering “full cards” in the wake of the UFC 151 cancellation. We’ll have to see whether that’s true. Blame Jones, blame Dan Henderson, blame anyone in sight — the fact is the UFC needs to have co-main events that can be viable main events in case a fight falls through. If not, we’re going to see more cancellations.

– An MMA Live rundown of the top 5 upsets in MMA history could provoke plenty of debate, but have you ever seen a better three-minute highlight package of the sport? If you want to introduce someone to the sport, you may not find anything better.

– Should I listen to Rampage Jackson and King Mo talking about to fix all the problems in MMA? I haven’t yet.

– Is Stefan Struve the funniest trash-talker in MMA? It helps that he keeps getting matched up with people like Pat Barry and Stipe Miocic.

– Should karate be in the Olympics, perhaps ahead of taekwondo? Karate may be a more widely accepted martial art. Taekwondo’s new rules and sensory equipment have been a mixed bag — it’s still “fencing with feet” and a little difficult to follow. But if you watch the video on the Morning Report, the winner basically takes the decision because she was punched in the face. That might be a tough sell.