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SBD/February 13, 2013/OlympicsPrint All
IOC President Jacques Rogge today said that he will “meet with the head of wrestling's governing body to discuss ways the sport can fight to save its place in the 2020 Olympics” after the IOC voted yesterday to drop the sport, according to Stephen Wilson of the AP. He added that he has been “contacted by" FILA President Raphael Martinetti. Rogge: "We agreed we would meet at the first opportunity to have discussions." He added that he was “encouraged that FILA had ‘vowed to adapt the sport and vowed to fight to be eventually included in the 2020 slot’” (AP, 2/13). REUTERS’ Karolos Grohmann notes the IOC today “played down the finality of its decision.” IOC VP Thomas Bach said, “This was a decision about core sports and nothing more. I am happy about FILA’s reaction, to draw up a plan to act. That is the right way. Keep in mind a final decision has not yet been taken. If they (FILA) continue like that they will win a lot of sympathies.” Grohmann notes the IOC Exec Board will meet in St. Petersburg, Russia, "in May to decide which of eight candidate sports, including wrestling, will be put forward to win the spot left vacant for the 2020 Games.” It then will “put its recommendation for the 25 core sports and the new entry to a vote at its session in Argentina” (REUTERS, 2/13).
USA WRESTLING GETTING INVOLVED: USA Wrestling Exec Dir Rich Bender said that the NGB would "take the lead in an international effort to persuade IOC officials to reverse course" about dropping wrestling. In DC, Liz Clarke reports the effort will stress wrestling’s "central role in the original Greek Olympic Games and the sport’s present-day global reach." USOC CEO Scott Blackmun "pledged continued support of American wrestlers and the effort to keep the sport in the Olympics" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/13). The AP's Wilson reported yesterday's decision to cut the sport "came via secret ballot over four rounds, with 14 members voting each time on which sport should not be included in the core group." Rogge did not vote. Three sports were "left in the final round: wrestling, field hockey and modern pentathlon." Eight members voted "against wrestling and three each against the other two sports." Taekwondo and canoe kayaking "survived the previous rounds." FILA in a statement noted it was "greatly astonished" by the decision and that it "will take all necessary measures to convince the IOC executive board and IOC members of the aberration of such decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games." The Swiss-based federation "said it would meet next week in Thailand to discuss the matter" (AP, 2/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Martin Rogers wrote wrestling's "only chance of survival" is coming in September when it will be "one of seven sports bidding to be part of the 2020 Games." FILA is expected to "spend heavily on a promotional video to be used at the IOC meeting," but it still "might not be enough" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/12).
CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE SPORT: The AP's Luke Meredith noted reaction to the move "was swift on social media." A Facebook page titled "Keep Wrestling in the Olympics" was started yesterday morning and had "nearly 34,000 likes by the end of the day." A number of Olympians also "displayed their displeasure over the decision on Twitter by using the hashtag" #SaveOlympicWrestling. Kurt Angle, who won a Gold Medal in the '96 Atlanta Games, said that he is "hopeful that TNA and WWE wrestling can team up with USA Wrestling to help make a push to save the sport's inclusion" (AP, 2/12). A petition to "get the White House to pressure the IOC to overturn the decision on wrestling has 14,000 followers so far" (TWITTER.com, 2/13).
NOT MOVING THE NEEDLE ENOUGH: The AP's Wilson cited IOC documents that show that wrestling "ranked 'low' in several of the technical criteria, including popularity with the public at the London Games -- just below 5 on a scale of 10." Wrestling sold "113,851 tickets in London out of 116,854 available." The documents show the sport also "ranked 'low' in global TV audience with a maximum of 58.5 million viewers and an average of 23 million." In addition, Internet hits and press coverage were "ranked as low." Modern pentathlon also "ranked low in general popularity in London, with 5.2 out of 10." It also "ranked low in all TV categories, with maximum viewership of 33.5 million and an average of 12.5 million" (AP, 2/12). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, “This is the way the Olympics is going. If a sports doesn’t fit into a nice 10 or 15-minute segment they can put in primetime, it doesn’t work anymore.” ESPN’s Pablo Torre said the “tragedy is that these primetime sports don’t value the tradition of the Olympics” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 2/12).
A SITTING DUCK? The AFP cited a source who said wrestling "was not on the radar" to be cut going into yesterday's meeting. However, the "trouble was while modern pentathlon and tae kwon do did effective lobbying, wrestling thought they were safe and did none at all" (AFP, 2/12). USA Wrestling VP Greg Strobel said, "It blindsided us for sure" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 2/13). In Chicago, Philip Hersh writes yesterday's action by the IOC "included the usual blend of secrecy, politics and conflicts of interest" that the organization is known for. Yet some in the wrestling community "saw it coming and warned that the sport's historic stature no longer would be a valid birthright." Bill Scherr, who won a Bronze Medal at the '88 Seoul Games, said, "It's a shock based on the relative merit of the sport, but it should not be a surprise for anyone close to FILA or anyone who understands how the IOC makes decisions." He added, "Hundreds of thousands of young wrestlers around the world will suffer because of an inept and ineffective leadership at the sport's international federation. FILA does no lobbying with the IOC, does not participate as a good citizen in IOC activities and does not market itself" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/13).
MESSING WITH TRADITION: In N.Y., Jere Longman writes it was "precisely the traditional nature of wrestling that appeared to doom it." A shift in "priority has occurred in an era of outsize television contracts as Olympic officials seek to add more telegenic sports and more widely visible stars in hopes of maintaining a sense of relevance, modernity and youthfulness in the Winter and the Summer Games." Olympic wrestling, with its "amateur roots and absence of visibility except during the Games, does not have superstars with widespread international acclaim." In the U.S., the "popularity of Olympic-style wrestling is surpassed by the staged bombast of professional wrestling." Experts said that the IOC also may have "grown frustrated that Greco-Roman wrestling did not include women." Women "began participating in freestyle wrestling" at the '04 Athens Games (N.Y. TIMES, 2/13). IOC Dir of Sport Christophe Dubi suggested that wrestling "could have avoided this fate if it had followed the lead of archery, fencing and modern pentathlon." The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Futterman & Germano note archery "changed its scoring system so competitions often come down to a final arrow." Fencing now "stages matches under a spotlight," and pentathlon has "compressed its competition to a single day" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/13). SI.com's Brian Cazeneuve wrote wrestling officials "may need to heed calls for the type of modernization that some in the sport find offensive." One international official acknowledged that there has "been too little movement on the part of Greco-Roman wrestling to increase scoring or become more viewer-friendly." Such suggestions have "engendered a strong pushback from the sport's purists" (SI.com, 2/12).
LESSON IN HISTORY: In Newark, Steve Politi writes the IOC is "smart to add sports that appeal to a younger audience -- who doesn't like beach volleyball? -- but dropping wrestling would be eliminating a sport that dates to 708 BC." Politi: "Hopefully, an uprising of sorts will save wrestling" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 2/13). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay writes the IOC's decision "feels like another money-driven shin-kick to the idea of what makes the Olympics the Olympics" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/13). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said the IOC is “acting like morons again” for eliminating wrestling. The IOC’s “stupid, lame excuse is, ‘We’re modernizing.’" Wilbon: "Don’t modernize! The Olympics are about history and tradition” ("PTI," ESPN, 2/12). ESPN's Bomani Jones said, "This is the kind of sport the Olympics should be about. In theory, this is something anyone in any part of the world, no matter income or anything else, can do. This is what the Olympics should be" ("Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 2/12). In DC, Marc Lancaster writes, "What sport better symbolizes the basic ideals of the Olympics than wrestling?" It is wrestling's "history that makes this vote so mind-boggling." The sport has appeared in "every modern Olympics with the exception of the Paris Games in 1900" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 2/13). NBC Sports Network’s Michelle Beadle said, “There’s probably nothing more Greek in origin in the Olympics than wrestling. ... You might as well get rid of the Olympic rings if you're going to get rid of wrestling" ("The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 2/12). Angle said, "It's like pulling the 100-meter dash out of track and field. It doesn't make sense at all. To drop wrestling shows that the IOC has no tradition" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 2/12). Rulon Gardner, who won Gold in the '00 Sydney Games, said, "The Olympic movement has gone astray. It's moving in the direction, not of history but of ratings. Is it about mainstream and money, or is it about amateur sports competing at the highest level on the world stage?" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/13). Gardner added, "Maybe it's not as eye-friendly as women's volleyball, but I don't know why people wouldn't want to support wrestling. I think it's pretty appealing" (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 2/13).
The IOC's decision to cut wrestling from the Olympic program beginning with the '20 Games is a "surprise only to those who don't understand the way the IOC works," according to Alan Abrahamson of 3 WIRE SPORTS. IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who is the First VP of modern pentathlon's international governing union, "sits on the executive board while the fate of modern pentathlon is being decided." And modern pentathlon "surely proved to have political influence within the IOC." Abrahamson asked of the wrestling international governing body, "What was FILA’s political strategy? Nothing, apparently. Who was advocating inside the IOC board for wrestling? No one, seemingly -- of all the biggest wrestling countries, none have seats on the IOC board" (3WIRESPORTS.com, 2/12). Modern Pentathlon Communications & Marketing Manager Matthew Pound said having Samaranch on the IOC board was "definitely an advantage." Pound: "Of course he was showing everyone everything we've done over the past 10 years" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/13). In Toronto, Steve Buffery writes what modern pentathlon "has that wrestling doesn't are supporters with money and power." That is how "it works at the IOC." Modern pentathlon and taekwondo have "more political clout than wrestling." Never mind that they "have far fewer participants" (TORONTO SUN, 2/13). In Chicago, Philip Hersh writes the "problem is places where wrestling is most popular -- Iran, Russia and several other republics of the former Soviet Union -- have no clout on the IOC executive board." Neither does "the country with the most Olympic wrestling medals, the United States." None of the exec board's 15 members "is from those countries." Eight are from western Europe while several "have blatant conflicts of interest because they are past or present top officials of the international federations that govern sports under consideration Tuesday, most notably" Samaranch. However, IOC Communications Dir Mark Adams said that Samaranch, the son of the late former IOC president, and "all other executive board members were allowed to participate in the discussions and vote on which sports would remain in the Olympics" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/13).
POLITICS RULE THE DAY: FOXSPORTS.com's Reid Forgrave wrote dropping wrestling on the surface is "simply a dumb, shortsighted decision, based on fleeting things like television ratings." But "deeper down, there’s a stench of something unsavory here." It feels like another "politically motivated decision by the most political organization in sports" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/12). In Pittsburgh, Dejan Kovacevic writes the IOC is the "shadiest sporting outfit in the world this side of FIFA, moved almost entirely by politics and by money, over and under the table" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 2/13). With reports stating FILA did not lobby as hard as modern pentathlon did to stay in the Games, the L.A. TIMES' Bill Dwyre writes, "These are games won or lost not on the playing field, but standing alongside a bar, a glass of fine Bordeaux in hand" (L.A. TIMES, 2/13). In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes the 15-member IOC exec board, "forever opaque and illogical, could not possibly have behaved more inscrutably than on Tuesday." If only the IOC board "felt accountable to its public, rather than to its buddy system, perhaps we might have been told the real, political reason behind this demotion." Instead, "we are left to guess at motive" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/13).
EURO TRIP: In San Diego, Mark Zeigler writes eliminating what is "perceived as ... another 'American' sport" could be "further evidence of the Europe-ification of the Olympic movement, in much the same way that the removal of baseball and softball after 2008 was" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 2/13). Former USOC CEO Jim Scherr, who wrestled in the '88 Seoul Games, said, "I do think it is a reflection of the Eurocentric nature of the IOC board, the IOC membership as a whole. It may not be a deliberate slap at the U.S. or Russia or the Middle East, but it certainly can be taken that way because they didn't have strong representation." USA Wrestling Exec Dir Rich Bender said that the decision was "made by uninformed individuals who don't understand the diversity and international reach of his sport." Scherr added that at the "same time, it appeared international wrestling officials weren't as persuasive as those in other sports" (USA TODAY, 2/13).