Even as I profess liberal and progressive stances in politics and social issues, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to sports (that doesn’t mean the Yankees have to win the World Series every year, though that would be nice. A little tedious to anyone not a Yankees fan, but who cares about them, anyway?).
I’m not really a big Olympics follower, but I do lament the decision by the International Olympic Committee’s 15-member executive board to drop freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling from the 26 sports to be included in the 2020 Summer Games. Wrestling was part of the original competition in ancient Greece when the Helenists first gathered in 708 BCE to crown champions of the body. Wrestling has been part of the Modern Olympics since 1896. People of all sizes and shapes can participate, not just the humongous, gargantuan or muscular as in other sports, such as weight lifting, basketball or gymnastics.
I never wrestled, not counting, of course, the ‘rastling my brother Bernie and I did growing up. We’d roughhouse in our bedroom until one of us (guess who?) would wind up crying and the other would retreat to the bathroom, leaving the former to bear the brunt of parental admonishment.
The IOC, it is said, is trying to be more modern in its appeal. After all, how many movies can you name that included wrestling? The World According to Garp. That’s one. And Win Win, which, coincidentally, is being shown on various HBO stations this week. Can you name another? OK, let’s count Requiem for a Heavyweight even though Harlan "Mountain" McClintock was more of a washed-up boxer than a wrestler. And there’s the first Spider-Man movie where Peter Parker enters the wrestling ring to earn money for a car. And who can forget Man on the Moon, the biographical flick of comedian Andy Kaufman which included his wrestling women.
So there’s some theatrical history with wrestling and, according to The NY Times, the sport has broad global appeal. At least 180 countries have governing bodies for wrestling. During the last Olympics in London, 29 countries won medals in wrestling.
If the IOC can make wrestling say uncle, who knows which sport will be next on the target list? Perhaps the Winter Olympics will sweep curling away. Or maybe the biathlon that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, though it’s hard to imagine the National Rifle Association sitting still if such an eventuality were to come to pass.
It’s possible wrestling can get a late reprieve when the Olympic Committee meets again during the summer to consider which sport will become the 26th part of the two week extravaganza. Wrestling will be competing with rock climbing, rollerblading and wakeboarding for that coveted spot. Let’s consider these sports. Only one—wrestling—has as its objective forcing your opponent to sustain a hard and unexpected landing from maybe two feet above ground. The three others have the “splat” effect of unintended falls. In this television age, where wipeouts are theater, wrestling doesn’t stand a chance.