The IOC does not like America as an entity. It likes what Americans do for TV ratings and ticket and merchandise sales and corporate sponsors — and it loves the $4.38 billion NBC is paying for the next four Olympics. In other words, it loves us for our money.
Yet despite paying much of the freight and providing such money-makers as the U.S. men’s basketball team, the women’s gymnastics team, and a host of track and field stars — for the love of Mike, we gave them Michael Phelps! — the IOC really doesn’t care what America or Americans want.
There hasn’t been an American on the IOC executive board, where the power and the clout is, since 2001. So it has been easy for those hoity-toity stuffed shirts to kill baseball and softball — as a package deal, no less — and to add wrestling to the list earlier this week.
The IOC is quick to assure us that wrestling isn’t dead yet. Wrestling will be included in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and can get itself added to the 2020 program. It just has to fight off the other contending sports (including baseball and softball).
Wrestling was an original Olympic sport, and I don’t mean one created by or allowed in by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, whose playbook the IOC tries to follow despite the fact that among those he didn’t want in the Olympics were women. It’s possible that de Coubertin’s ideas are now a little dated.
Yet his creation, the modern pentathlon, avoided the ax while the ancient sport of wrestling is out. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., son of a former IOC president, is a vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union and a member of the IOC board. This is a conflict of interest typical for the IOC.
But let me stop right there. This is what the IOC wants: sports turning on sports. I happen to love modern pentathlon and would hate to see it eliminated. Why? Because when the heck would we see modern pentathlon except every four years? Do we want an Olympic Games that includes only sports we can watch every day? Then let the alphabet soup organizations — the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, FINA, the PGA (yes, golf is on the 2016 docket) — take over and have done with it.
I love the Olympics for the staples — the track, the skiing and even, yes, the figure skating — but I love them more for the Nordic combined, the modern pentathlon, the biathlon. Is it so bad, for two weeks every two years, to read about athletes we know nothing about? I don’t think so.
The United States isn’t dominant in Olympic wrestling, but it is a player. (The Russians must be going nuts, with 77 medals on their collective chests.) And here’s the thing: For high school wrestlers, college scholarships can be a goal. For college wrestlers, the Olympics can be a goal. The Olympics are the pinnacle of the sport, and the one chance for many to be exposed to wrestling, even if it’s only once every four years.
Participation numbers in wrestling in this country are increasing, and I would expect that trend to continue. For parents worried about the dangers of football, it is an attractive alternative. It’s also a co-ed sport now, right up to the Olympic level. (Take that, Baron!)
Wrestling needs to stay because it’s an original sport — the Greeks did it in the ancient games. Wrestling needs to stay because it remains a low-cost sport compared to many — you need a mat and headgear. Singlets optional: The ancient Greeks did it naked. Wrestling needs to stay because the Olympic stamp gives it the cachet to keep it alive at the lower levels of competition. Wrestling needs to stay because it’s a far easier sport for anyone to practice than many, including modern pentathlon, which requires an epee, a gun, a swimsuit, some jogging shorts — and a horse. (Again, I love the modern pentathlon — but I admit it’s not for everyone.)
In the coming months, wrestling’s international and national federations surely will mount a campaign to keep the sport, but they face an uphill battle since they are now on the outside looking in. Dealing with the elite but often corrupt IOC can be rough going. I suggest going not to the mats, but to the mattresses.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/