“It’s a complete catastrophe,” Palle Nielsen, the spokesperson of the Danish Wrestling Association, told The Copenhagen Post following the news that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has voted to drop his sport from the 2020 games onwards.
“To think that we’re coming into a world were Olympic sports are chosen on commercial interests is absolutely ridiculous.”
The IOC confirmed on Tuesday that wrestling had been dropped from the core 25 sports that make up the Olympic Games from 2020. The body bases such decisions on various factors, including TV ratings, global popularity, ticket sales and anti-doping reputations.
It will be the first time since the Paris Games of 1900 that the sport will not be included, and it is particularly surprising considering that wrestling is recognised as the world’s oldest competitive sport, according to Olympic.org, the official website of the Olympic Movement. The sport was introduced into the ancient Olympics in 708 BC and cave drawings of wrestlers have been found dating as far back as 3000 BC.
To be reincluded, the sport will now have to compete with seven other sports – baseball/softball, wushu (kung fu), roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, squash and karate – for just one spot at the 2020 Olympics. Recent additions to the Olympics include golf and rugby sevens, which are making their debuts at the 2016 games.
However, there is a slim chance that the IOC’s decision could be overturned when the committee meets in September, but Nielsen conceded that it is unlikely.
“It’s not over yet,” Nielsen said. “While there’s still a chance that the decision can be overturned, there is still hope. But we’re in a complete state of shock.”
Nielsen is not the only wrestling representative who is surprised at the IOC’s decision. The international wrestling body, FILA, condemned the move in a press release as “astonishing”, and insisted it will “take all necessary measures to convince the IOC members of the aberration of such a decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games”.
Even the Danish representatives of the IOC (DIF) are bemused at the verdict.
“To omit such a classic Olympic sport is nothing short of surprising,” Niels Nygaard, a spokesperson for the DIF, wrote in a press statement. “It’s especially regrettable from a Danish perspective, as we’ve had a strong tradition with the sport in the last three Olympics.”
The IOC has defended its actions by reiterating that its recommendations for the 25 core sports are based around the future development of sporting interests around the world. However, it is not the first time wrestling has come under some scrutiny by Olympic officials who, following the 2004 Olympics in Athens, put pressure on the sport’s representatives to make it more TV and spectator-friendly.
“The question is not what’s wrong with wrestling,” Mark Adams, the communications officer for the IOC, told journalists at a press conference in Switzerland. “But what’s right for the 2020 Games.”
When The Copenehagen Post asked the IOC to go into greater detail regarding “what’s right for the 2020 Games”, the IOC released the following statement: “The Olympic programme must balance historical perspective with new trends, universal participation and regional preferences, team and individuals sports, combat and artistic disciplines. In other words, it must appeal to the interests of people of all ages around the world. It has to cater for all tastes. Thus the determination of the core sports and the composition of the Olympic Programme is a complex matter and not a simple task.”
But Nielsen is not convinced. “I don’t get it,” he said. “I was at both the London and Beijing Olympic Games, and wrestling was fiercely popular. Definitely no shortage of ticket sales there. It’s a very strange decision and I don’t have any sympathy with it.”