Donald Rumsfeld To The IOC: Reinstate Wrestling As An Olympic Sport

London Olympics Wrestling

Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee announced that wrestling, which has been part of the modern Olympic games since they started in 1896, and which is one of the few remaining modern Olympic sports that was part of the original Olympics, would not be a competition sport starting with the 2020 Olympics. Theoretically, the sport could still be reinstated, but it will have to compete with a number of other newer events for attention, only one of which will actually be certified for the 2020 games. Given it’s history, it’s a decision that many found in explicable, and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is among them:

Wrestling’s Olympic legacy is unmatched. It is one of the oldest contact sports and was an important part of the first Olympic Games, which historians date to 776 BC. The first modern Olympics, in 1896, included wrestling as a marquee event. The sport has missed only one Olympics since then, in 1900. For those counting, that is 26 straight Games over a span of 112 years.

Wrestling is a universal sport. To compete, all that is needed is an opponent and a flat surface. Anyone can participate, regardless of geography, weather, race, gender, culture or economic background. It doesn’t require a golf course, a swimming pool or a horse. More than 170 nations from all over the globe have competed. In the 1996 Olympics alone, 75 countries were represented on the mat. Athletes from a great number of nations have won medals — countries as diverse as Iran, South Korea, Sweden, Cuba and Hungary. Indeed, more countries have been represented on the winners’ podium for wrestling than for nearly any other sport.

Wrestling uniquely encapsulates the Olympic spirit, even though it harkens back to older and more martial virtues, rather than the arts festival and Kumbaya session that some may prefer the modern Games to be. Few other sports are so directly aggressive: It is you vs. one other person. There is nothing to hide behind; there are no time-outs. It is all up to you. Yet, precisely because of those conditions, few other sports create such remarkable camaraderie among their participants.

In response to the Olympic committee’s decision, members of the international wrestling community have been reaching out to one another. They are finding common purpose to create a compelling argument for readmission.

While I have tremendous respect for athletes of every Olympic sport, it is difficult to understand why wrestling was singled out for exclusion. I would imagine that it has at least as many fans across the globe as ribbon twirling, trampoline and speed-walking. No wonder the decision has been met with bafflement in many quarters. U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun was among those who were surprised, “given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality.”

To exclude wrestling from the 2020 Olympics would be a tragedy for the sport, for the athletes and for the proud tradition of the Games. Over thousands of years, wrestling has spread to every continent. It is practiced in hundreds of countries and expressed through a multiplicity of cultures. It has thrived through war, depression, social changes and globalization. But the IOC panel didn’t see fit to include it in the 2020 Games. Something is wrong with that picture.

Admittedly, wrestling doesn’t exactly bring in the television ratings. There are very few amateur wrestling stars. and what we Americans call professional “wrestling” is little more than elaborate choreography combined with really bad acting.  Nonetheless, it’s one of those sports that strikes me as displaying the kind of true athleticism that the Olympics claim to represent. I don’t often agree with Donald Rumsfeld, but in this case I think he’s right. If there’s room in the Summer Olympic for the modern sports that have been added in the past ten years or so, then there’s room for what is clearly man’s most ancient sport.

Photo via Salon

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Sports
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Nonetheless, it’s one of those sports that strikes me as displaying the kind of true athleticism that the Olympics claim to represent.

    Displaying the kind of true athleticis?
    You haven’t watched any wrestling at any recent Olympics, have you?

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Donald Rumsfeld? Seriously? WAPO printed an op-ed by Donald Rumsfeld?

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Just when we’re thankfully reaching greater acceptance of homosexuality they want to outlaw a sport that involves men locked in each others arms and grunting on the floor?

  4. Andre Kenji says:

    Rumsfeld is right. Only this time. Ratings should not get over Olympic Legacy.

  5. Andre Kenji says:

    @gVOR08:

    Donald Rumsfeld? Seriously? WAPO printed an op-ed by Donald Rumsfeld?

    They have torture apologists Jennifer Rubin and Marc Thiessen in their staff.

  6. Just Me says:

    Boxing is filled with controversy every year. But they keep boxing and eliminate wrestling.

    Also, wrestling actually has winners from a variety of countries. It isn’t dominated by one or two.

    I can list other sports they should go first-although some likely are more popular ticket wise (but I really do not see the need for synchronized swimming or rhythmic gymanstics).

  7. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    I think that Rummy inadvertently stumble on the real problem. Do viewers in “The Developed Nations” really want a sport where ” all that is needed is an opponent and a flat surface [and] [a]nyone can participate, regardless of geography, weather, race, gender, culture or economic background?” Really now guys, isn’t the Olympics really about conspicuous consumption, and vicarious heroics? Why should we allow sports where the material advantages of our ability to buy the best coaches, training regimens, steroidal supplements and such are undermined by a bunch of Third World upstarts who only need an opponent and a flat surface? You guys really need to think this through more.

  8. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Doug really should have quoted, or at least paraphrased, the paragraph just before he started quoting:

    I am not without bias when it comes to the sport. I was a wrestler for 10 years — in high school, at Princeton University and as an officer in the Navy, where I competed for a spot in the 1956 Olympics (unsuccessfully, as it turned out).

    Rumsfeld modestly declined to mention that he was the captain of Princeton’s wrestling team.

  9. maggie says:

    Apparently he has never had any experience in wrestling with his morals or ethics, since he proved he had none when he led the charge of a trumped up cause of war in Irag that killed over 5000 of our troops and countless others maimed for life!

  10. Unsympathetic says:

    Archery, badminton, everything with a horse, rhythm gymnastics, and speedwalking should all be dead and buried before they eliminate wrestling.

  11. al-Ameda says:

    Oh my. I was in favor of re-instating wrestling until this.

    Just kidding. If they’re going to eliminate sports eliminate synchronized anything, tennis, baseball (pretty much any sport where millionaire professional athletes slum to get a gold medal.

  12. matt bernius says:

    From what I understand from accentuates intimately familiar with the ICO, there has long been a drive to eliminate most, if not all, of the Martial Sports from the Olympics. That said, the news that Grecco Roman wrestling has been eliminated is really surprising.

    And Rummy’s points, on this topic, are all good ones. Likewise, as other have said, this is a particular sport where “modern” countries don’t have as much of an advantage as in other categories.

  13. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    Somebody give me a whiskey. I never thought I could agree with Don Rumsfeld on anything.

  14. Just Me says:

    baseball (pretty much any sport where millionaire professional athletes slum to get a gold medal.

    Baseball was already eliminated.

    I still don’t understand why wrestling didn’t make the cut when I could probably list 20 sports that should be eliminated first.

  15. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    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.

    Yes, who wants to watch boring ol’ wrestling when we can all watch judo and kayaking instead–the ratings are through the roof!

    Why don’t we just scrap the whole thing at this point and just get to the Death Race or Hunger Games sports (or both); that should be good for ratings.

  16. Marcus Notrealius says:

    Maybe dropping wrestling has something to do with gender? Olympic wrestling is a male-only sport.

    If gender matters, then dropping ribbon dancing and synchronized swimming (and any other female-only Olympic sport) would be appropriate.

    But the bottom line may be that they don’t sell tickets and get tv viewers for wrestling. I wrestled in high school and liked the sport, but many years later I could care less about watching it on tv.

    I’m not saying I believe wrestling should be dropped — just searching for the reason behind the change of heart.

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @Just Me:

    I still don’t understand why wrestling didn’t make the cut when I could probably list 20 sports that should be eliminated first.

    Thanks, I forgot that baseball was removed, I think the same should happen to tennis too.

    Wrestling, while I do not care much for it, is a classic olympic competition.

  18. Tyrell says:

    Rumsfeld aside, and he should not be the issue here, this decision is ridiculous. Wrestling is a traditional Olympic sport and one of the most dramatic. Who can forget Kurt Angle’s inspiring victory? What is more exciting than watching the heavyweights ?
    I guess next to go will be ice hockey from the Winter Olympics, so they can have 20 more hours of “ice dancing”.

  19. Tyrell says:

    @maggie: Totally below the belt comment.

  20. roger says:

    If ratings were a true concern, then we’d see canoeing, equestrian, dance, water polo, skeet and other sports eliminated.

    Wrestling is cheap compared to, say, swimming where you need a whole new arena with Olympic grade pools and people to dump in the right water then maintain the right chemical balance, swimmers wear fancy bathing suits, etc.

    Maybe it was eliminated because it is a true amateur sport.

  21. electroman says:

    @Marcus Notrealius: That’s a negative, Ghost Rider. In fact, there are no more men-only sports at the Olympics. Like Rummy, I wrestled in college and am a bit sad to see it depart.