The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee in a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Feb. 12 chose 25 out of the 26 sports contested in the 2012 London Olympics as core sports for the 2020 Olympics and added wrestling to the seven shortlisted sports “vying for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program as an additional sport.” In the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, 27 sports will be contested — the 25 core sports plus golf and seven-person rugby. In the 2020 Summer Games, 28 sports will be contested. Thus the 28th sport must be chosen out of the seven shortlisted sports plus wrestling.
In a meeting in Russia in May, the IOC Executive Board will pick one out of the eight sports for the 2020 Olympics. Thus there is the possibility that wrestling — which has federations in 180 countries around the world and has played a prominent role in the Olympics in both ancient and modern times —will not be a part of the 2020 Olympic Games.
The decision is a blow to many countries including Japan, whose wrestlers have performed well internationally. It will discourage many Japanese youths who have taken up or plan to take up wrestling, including girls who were inspired by Ms. Saori Yoshida, who won three consecutive Olympic gold medals in women’s freestyle. Women’s wresting was introduced for the first time in the 2004 Athens Games. In the London Olympics, four events in freestyle were held for women and seven events in both Greco-Roman and freestyle were held for men.
The IOC Executive Board has the responsibility to provide a full, official explanation for its sudden decision, which appears to have been made in haste. IOC Vice President Ser Miang Ng said that the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) failed to answer many questions. The IOC also reportedly criticized the fact that FILA does not include athletes in its decision-making body and excludes women from its executive board.
The IOC executive board is reported to have taken into consideration 39 factors, including the spread and popularity of the sports in question and the audience rating for TV broadcast of the sport. The popularity of wrestling in the London Olympics was reportedly less than 5 in a rating system of 1 to 10. Yet the IOC executive board voted to retain the modern pentathlon, which in the London Olympics had participants from just 26 countries and averaged only 12.5 million TV viewers globally, while 71 countries sent wrestlers to London and the matches had an average TV audience of 23 million. Those unhappy with the IOC’s decision note that executive board member Mr. Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. also serves as the vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union.
Following the May selection of one out of the eight sports seeking inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, the full IOC membership will make a final decision in September. Japan should join the other countries that are opposed to the IOC’s decision and launch strong lobbying activities to save Olympic wrestling.