IOC has sold soul to the (TV) devil

Eliminating wrestling from the 2020 Olympics is a huge mistake, but hardly a surprise as television ratings rule the roost

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 February, 2013, 6:46am

I love the game of golf and have little interest in wrestling. But we are talking Olympics in summer, not Augusta in April. In a somewhat bewildering move, the International Olympic Committee has decided wrestling was not sexy enough and bedevilled by weak TV ratings so it will be out come the 2020 Summer Games in order to allow other sports, like golf, into the fray.

There is an understandable chorus of shock and outrage and much is now being made of the fact that wrestling has been a core sport in the Olympic movement since the first modern Games in 1896. But wrestling dates back much further than that and was one of the core sports in the Ancient Olympics in 776 BC. Still this is 2013 and the IOC issued a simple press release this week announcing its executive board recommended wrestling not be included "on the list of core sports".

The IOC release went on to state: "In an effort to ensure the Olympic Games remain relevant to sports fans of all generations, the Olympic Programme Commission systematically reviews every sport following each edition of the Games." And with that the IOC refused further comment, other than to say wrestling now joins seven shortlisted sports - baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, rock climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu - in applying for inclusion as the one additional sport in 2020.

Most thought the seemingly elitist modern pentathlon, a five-sport competition featuring pistol shooting, swimming, fencing, equestrianism and cross-country running, would get the axe. Few anticipated it would be wrestling and not surprisingly the backlash is taking a nasty turn.

Russian wrestling coach Vladimir Uruimagov called the decision "a blow to masculine origins". He claimed the IOC executive board was a loosely aligned group of homosexuals. "If they expel wrestling now," he said, "that means the gays will soon run the whole world."

Organisers of the Gay Games were quick to point out, however, that wrestling has been a core event at their gathering since the first games were held in 1982. And it's also worth noting that in the first Olympiad in 776 BC participants wrestled nude and were covered in olive oil to help celebrate the achievements of the human body.

The fallout from this issue will undoubtedly take some more interesting turns. But I have a simple question: how many people do you personally know who were on the high school pentathlon team? Of course, there is technically no rule that sports played by less than 1 per cent of the world cannot be included in the Olympics. And there is also no rule that rich people can't have their moment of sporting glory, particularly with the traditionally aristocratic makeup of the IOC.

After years of corruption and scandal the IOC has tried to take steps to make its 106 members more inclusive and transparent. But despite that cosmetic change, the real power in the IOC rests with the 15 members of the exclusive executive board. Prominent on that board is Juan Antonio Samaranch Jnr, the son of none other than Don Juan Antonio Samaranch y Torelló, 1st Marquis of Samaranch, Grandee of Spain and the president of the IOC from 1980 to 2001. It was under Samaranch Snr's watch that the modern Olympics became an extremely lucrative undertaking as well as criminally corrupt and rife with entitlement. His son has also been the first vice-president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union since 1996.

For a sport like wrestling, the son of Samaranch sounds like the title of a bad horror movie. But according to Samaranch Jnr, he had nothing to do with pentathlon making the cut and said his double capacity of IOC board member and a sporting VP was merely a coincidence. Samaranch Jnr also has a wife and four kids, seemingly at odds with a certain Russian wrestling coach's theories. Another more enlightened Russian had a different idea. "We need to make some drastic changes in the sport, make it more attractive, especially for TV audiences," said Mikhail Mamiashvili, who is president of the Russian Wrestling Federation and a former gold medallist.

No doubt the sport needs to be more palatable. But if the future of the Olympics means a medal around the neck of Tiger Woods as opposed to some unknown wrestler from Afghanistan then the true Olympian spirit of global sport to unify the world has officially and irrevocably surrendered to TV ratings. You had to know it was coming.