GEORGIA FLOORED BY OLYMPIC WRESTLING VOTE
IOC votes to remove ancient sport from the Summer Games from 2020
The decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to remove wrestling from the Olympic Games from 2020 has shaken Georgia sport to the core.
Wrestling, which became part of the Ancient Olympic Games in 708 AD and has been an ever present in the modern games since their inception in 1896, was voted to be removed by the IOC on 12 February ahead of modern pentathlon and taekwondo.
Its imminent removal is expected to have very damaging consequences for the sport. The Olympics are the pinnacle of wrestling, the event and the medals to which all wrestlers aspire. Without the Olympic incentive, can wrestling sustain its appeal to young athletes?
In the Caucasus and Central Asia, wrestling is especially popular and no more Olympic wrestling will severely impact on the national sporting pride of the countries in these respective regions.
In the five Olympiads in which Georgia has competed they have won 25 medals, 15 of them (including two gold) came from wrestling.
During the Soviet Union, Georgians frequently made the podium in wrestling. Indeed, in the Soviet Union’s first Olympic appearance in Helsinki 1952, two Georgians – Arsen Mekokishvili and David Tsimakuridze – won gold in freestyle wrestling.
In the 1970s, Levan Tediashvili won back to back gold medals at the Munich and Montreal games.
With such an illustrious national history in the sport, the Georgian Olympic Committee were naturally upset by the IOC decision.
In an official statement they reflected: “We hope that wrestling can remain in the Olympics, as this is very sad news for Georgian fans.”
The European Wrestling Championships will come to Tbilisi in March but now a huge shadow of uncertainty will linger above not just the event but the entire sport.
By the time the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary in September come around, wrestling’s Olympic fate should be officially known.
In September this year, another vote will be held by the IOC where wrestling will have the opportunity to be reinstated. However, it will be competing with at least another seven sports including squash, karate and roller sports. Having just been voted out, the chances of being voted back in are widely considered to be slim at best.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams stated: “This is not the end of the process, this is a recommendation. It’s not about what’s good or bad about wrestling, but what’s good for the games.”
Adams added rather ominously that the move was part of a “process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics.”
As it stands, the Rio de Janeiro Olympiad of 2016 could be the last time wrestling graces the world’s most prestigious sporting stage, after over 1400 years.
The FILA, wrestling’s governing body, expressed their astonishment at the decision and claimed that they would fight, and do what was necessary to regain the sport’s Olympic status.
Mike Novogratz, the American wrestling team leader at London 2012, claimed that wrestling’s lack of popularity in Western Europe, where most of the IOC’s executive board is based, was a key factor in the vote. However, he also criticized the FILA for “not doing enough to sell the merits of the sport.”
Condemnation of the decision has been widespread but Mikhail Mamiashvili, president of the Russian Wrestling Federation, felt the vote told the sport that it may need to modernize itself.
He admitted: “The FILA and whole wrestling community must take a more active role in the process. We need to make it more attractive, especially for TV audiences.”
It had been rumored that low TV ratings and ticket sales were significant factors in the decision.
However, the Georgian Olympic Committee pointed to other possible reasons. They noted: “In our opinion, among many problematic issues which need to be considered are corrupt officials and referees at major tournaments. Sometimes, Georgian athletes have been victims of this. The world of wrestling needs to solve the problems it has within the sport.”
Such a bleak critique of the sport will not do wrestling’s Olympic cause much good, and cleaning up its image may be more important than modernizing it.Failure to do so could see the demise of a classic, ancient sport and far fewer medals in the Georgian Olympic cabinet.
By Alastair Watt