Thursday, February 21, 2013

Olympics Take Wrestling Down

The geezer and many other folks don’t find watching wrestling a rewarding pastime. Nevertheless, I think the recent decision by International Olympic Committee leaders to drop the sport before the 2020 Summer Games is bad business.

As a youth, I never felt the urge to grapple with other young males as many did. Perhaps that was because I was too heavy for my strength and stood little chance of winning in the higher weight classes against young men in better condition.

As a sports editor, I was irritated to say the least by constant demands from parents of wrestlers that about half of my pages should be devoted to the struggles of their darlings. My judgment to limit coverage of wrestling was confirmed by visits to a few high school matches. The small audiences appeared to consist mainly of parents and girl friends of the combatants.

As a parent, I was proud but not too excited when our son, without previous experience, defeated every other aspiring grappler in his weight class in a rather large high school. I was underwhelmed when he became a member of the school’s wrestling team, and parents of his teammates sold me a T-shirt inscribed with “Wrestling Fever: Catch It.”  All I caught was a little shuteye during evening matches that rated pretty high on the boredom scale.

IOC officials want to take wrestling down for the count, but many young people are taking to the sport (Denver Post photo)
The best guesses are that the IOC people are tossing wrestling off the agenda simply because it is not a whole lot of fun to watch. Television addicts have not been eager to dial in to see the Greco-Roman wrestling finals, or any other wrestling bouts. In this age of “follow the money,” killing Olympic wrestling probably is viewed as sound thinking by Olympics officials (read money grubbers). But for other reasons, it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

The spirit of the Olympic Games once was a wonderful thing. People whose livelihoods depended on other labors gathered periodically for peaceful contests to determine who was the strongest, the fastest runner, the highest jumper, and the athlete with the most endurance. They all were amateurs in the beginning. We haven’t seen many true amateurs in the Olympics for years, but the basic reasons why the athletes compete have endured, although it is difficult to relate such events as synchronized swimming to strength, speed, and endurance.

Wrestling isn’t pretty, but it is a true test of strength.  It was one of the sports in the ancient Olympics, and it has been included in every modern Olympics, except the 1900 games. Many nations send representatives: 71 were included in the 2012 games.

Although I doubt wrestling will ever become a true spectator sport, it is gaining, not losing, in popularity. A report from the UK says so many schoolboys are signing up for the sport that additional coaches are needed. In the U.S., more than a quarter million high school youths take to the mats. Asian nations long have sponsored programs, and wrestlers are heroes in several eastern European countries. Wrestling is the national sport in Iran, an indicator of its popularity in the Middle East.  Growing numbers of women are taking to the sport in many parts of the world.

IOC leaders have a chance to reconsider replacing wrestling with rock climbing or squash, two leading candidates for the honor. They should reconsider. The Olympics ought to remain athlete-friendly, not viewer-friendly, in at least a few areas.

I probably won’t watch Olympic wrestling, but it deserves to continue as a rigorous test of human strength. All those youngsters aspiring to grapple their way to Olympic Gold should not have the prize removed from their dreams by profit-motivated bureaucrats.


Kay said...

I hadn't thought about this since I heard about it. I confess I don't pay attention to wrestling very much. However, it's more watchable for me because it appears less violent than boxing. I'll agree with you about keeping it. My son would love to add the rock climbing though since it's his passion right now.

PiedType said...

I can't imagine wrestling being dropped from the Olympics. Sure, add new sports if they become very popular, but don't drop the classics. The Olympics are supposed to be the ultimate competition for the best athletes from around the world. I understand that the modern world runs on balance sheets, but the Olympics should honor the athletes, not the viewers and investors.

(However, I did draw the line in 2011 when Iowa decided to let girls wrestle boys.)

schmidleysscribblins, said...

I don't know anything about sports, but I am sure there are pros and cons to the argument about whether wrestling is necessary. Dianne

Bob Lowry said...

If I never see wrestling or boxing during future Olympic games I will be happy. AS you note, Dick, wrestling is rather boring for the spectators. Watching two people cause brain damage to each other rules out boxing,too.

But, your point is very well taken. Some Olympic sports belong in the games even if not on the TV schedule.

Bill Hamilton said...

The news of the Olympic Committee wanting to delete the ancient "sport" of wrestling gave me a gasp of surprise. I just knew wrestling would outlast many of the features of the Olympic Games. Like you, I do not particularly like the sport, but it certainly deserves its place in the annual events.

Several of my fellow retirees at the fitness center are in hard agreement--keep wrestling because of historical importance.

Keep up your blogs. They suit me, and I think I've given a few peers good reason to read them. Keep up the good work.

Jhawk 23 said...

It seems pretty ridiculous, dropping the ancient sport of wrestling, one that was a part of the ancient Greek games and which to me, represents what the Olympics is all about: a contest of strength, endurance, or skill, among athletes.

And what do we get in place of real sports that have the misfortune not to be telegenic? Figure skating and water ballet. Next, I suppose is pole dancing.

I still have reservations about any "sport" that requires judges awarding points to determine a winner. Yes, those who practice those disciplines may be just as athletic as wrestlers or runners, but to me they're a different category and shouldn't be in the Olympics.

Tom Sightings said...

Personally, I've lost interest in the Olympics as they've been professionalized. But I think I'm in the minority. The last Olympics had good TV ratings, didn't they -- and to keep the ratings you need to be able to show the drama, excitement and big personalities.