SBD/February 13, 2013/Olympics

Rogge To Meet With Wrestling Execs About Ways Sport Can Fight To Stay In Olympics

IOC VP Thomas Bach played down the finality of yesterday's decision
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).
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