SBD/February 13, 2013/Olympics

What Role Did Politics Play In IOC's Decision To Cut Wrestling From Olympic Program?

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Samaranch is the First VP of modern pentathlon's international governing union
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).
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