LAUSANNE, Switzerland – For wrestling, this may have been the ultimate body slam: getting tossed out of the Olympic rings.
The vote Tuesday by the IOC’s executive board stunned the world’s wrestlers, who see their sport as popular in many countries and steeped in history as old as the Olympics themselves.
While wrestling will be included at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it was cut from the games in 2020, which have yet to be awarded to a host city.
2004 Olympic Greco-Roman champion Khasan Baroev of Russia called the decision “mind-boggling.”
“I just can’t believe it. And what sport will then be added to the Olympic program? What sport is worthy of replacing ours?” Baroev told the ITAR-Tass news agency. “Wrestling is popular in many countries – just see how the medals were distributed at the last Olympics.”
American Rulan Gardner, who upset three-time Russian Olympic champion Alexander Karelin at the Sydney Games in an epic gold-medal bout known as the “Miracle on the Mat,” was saddened by the decision to drop what he called “a beloved sport.”
“It’s the IOC trying to change the Olympics to make it more mainstream and more viewer-friendly instead of sticking to what they founded the Olympics on,” Gardner told the AP.
The executive board of the International Olympic Committee reviewed the 26 sports on its summer program in order to remove one of them so it could add one later this year. It decided to cut wrestling and keep modern pentathlon – a sport that combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting – and was considered to be the most likely to be dropped.
The board voted after reviewing a report by the IOC program commission report that analyzed 39 criteria, including TV ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity. With no official rankings or recommendations contained in the report, the final decision by the 15-member board was also subject to political, emotional and sentimental factors.
According to IOC documents obtained by the AP, wrestling ranked “low” in several of the technical criteria, including popularity with the public at the London Games – just below 5 on a scale of 10. Wrestling sold 113,851 tickets in London out of 116,854 available.
Wrestling also ranked “low” in global TV audience with a maximum of 58.5 million viewers and an average of 23 million, the documents show. Internet hits and press coverage were also ranked as low.
Modern pentathlon also ranked low in general popularity in London, with 5.2 out of 10. The sport also ranked low in all TV categories, with maximum viewership of 33.5 million and an average of 12.5 million.
FILA has 177 member nations, compared to 108 for modern pentathlon.
Modern pentathlon, which has been on the Olympic program since the 1912 Stockholm Games, was created by French baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement.
It also benefited from the work of Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president who is a UIPM vice president and member of the IOC board.
The IOC executive board will meet in May to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. Wrestling will join seven other sports in applying for 2020, but it is extremely unlikely that it would be voted back in.