IOC’s headlock!

Why has the International Olympic Committee turned its back on wrestling? The IOC President, Jacques Rogge, says he will meet the head of wrestling’s governing body to thrash out the issue.-AP Why has the International Olympic Committee turned its back on wrestling? The IOC President, Jacques Rogge, says he will meet the head of wrestling’s governing body to thrash out the issue.

It is perplexing that the IOC executive board has chosen to do away with wrestling, an elementary sport, which offers 72 medals in 18 weight categories in the Olympics. Y.B. Sarangi analyses the matter.

Perhaps it is the biggest irony in the history of sports that wrestling, a founding sport of the ancient and the modern Olympics and now followed in 180 countries, has been voted for exclusion from the 2020 Olympics. It was with disbelief and shock that the world reacted to the news.

The sport, originating from natural human instincts in ancient times, had made its Olympic debut in 708 B.C. before being embraced by different countries over thousands of years.

Deeply steeped in history, wrestling, once practised by noted philosopher Plato and covered by renowned litterateur Homer, has always been a sport representing the motto of Olympism — Citius, Altius, Fortius, proposed by Pierre de Coubertin on the creation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894.

It is perplexing that the IOC executive board chose to do away with an elementary sport, which offers 72 medals in 18 weight categories in the Olympics.

There was no doubt that the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) was caught off-guard. “FILA was greatly astonished by the recommendation of the IOC executive board not to maintain wrestling among the 25 core sports for the 2020 Olympic Games. FILA will take all necessary measures to convince the IOC executive board and IOC members of the aberration of such a decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games,” said a FILA statement.

With the IOC facing worldwide criticism over the decision, its president Jacques Rogge has appreciated FILA’s reaction to such a situation and the international federation’s resolve to save wrestling from the axe.

Sushil Kumar (in blue) celebrates his win against Kazakhstan's Akzhurek Tanatarov in the men's 66-kg freestyle semifinal match at the Olympic Games in London.-PTI

In its next meeting in May, the IOC executive board will go through presentations of eight sports, which are in the line of fire, before recommending which one of these would be included in the 2020 programme. The IOC session will give its final seal of approval in September.

What will be the impact if wrestling fails to make the cut? It will be a shattering experience for the wrestling fraternity in several wrestling nations, including top countries like the USA, Russia and Iran. In India, it will be huge setback for the sport which has started to produce medals in the last two Olympics.

“The Olympic medals have inspired the younger wrestlers a lot. Now, everyone believes that he is capable of winning a medal in the Olympics. That self-belief will be hit hard,” said two-time Olympic medallist and former world champion Sushil Kumar.

Yogeshwar Dutt, who bagged a bronze in the London Olmpics, said, “It is sad news for world wrestling. We cannot have a target if the sport goes out of the Olympics. I hope it stays for 2020.”

Nineteen-year-old Amit Kumar, who made his Olympic debut in London, has age on his side and can appreciate the real impact. “When you know you cannot take part in the Olympics, you cannot focus on your training. At least, I have a chance to participate in the 2016 Games. But what about those who are younger than me?”

Showing their support for the cause, the wrestling fraternity, led by Sushil and Yogeshwar, met some top political leaders and took out a rally in New Delhi.

Yogeshwar Dutt celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the men's 60-kg freestyle wrestling competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics.-PTI

Former renowned wrestlers, well-known coaches and the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) also reacted sharply to the development.

“Wrestling is one of the most popular sports in the world. It is not correct to take it off the Olympics,” said former wrestler Kartar Singh, a gold medal winner in the Asian Games.

“It is demoralising for the youngsters. You never know when the sport will be back (once it goes out),” said Yashvir Singh, the FILA 2010 coach of the year. National freestyle coach Vinod Kumar agreed, “All the trainees at akharas and National camps are anxious. We are telling them not to worry and focus on training.”

The 1974 Commonwealth Games champion Prem Nath, who runs an akhara in Delhi, said, “We have assured our wrestlers that the sport will stay in the Olympics. Otherwise, it is difficult to motivate them.”

FILA has to convince the IOC executive board that the Olympics will be less ‘Fortius’ without wrestling, which is one of the finest expressions of strength.