2020 Olympic Wrestling – It’s Wrestling’s Fault

What irks me almost as badly as losing our membership in the Summer Games is the way the leadership in Colorado Springs is parlaying it into their gain. The approach is as old as time itself; attack any crisis you have a hand in creating, deny any responsibility, demonstrate shock and dismay, create a call to arms, lead the charge, win the day and then go back to playing golf.

As this plays out in the media and behind closed doors, you’ll see this for yourself.

To start, the IOC did nothing wrong!
They simply approached this decision in a logical manner in keeping with their responsibilities.

As a for-profit corporation they are accountable to produce a product that the world wants to see, the major networks want to air, and in a setting where the athletes get a fair shot at winning. To achieve this, the IOC expects every sport to justify their existence through annual self-examination. This means:

1)      Does your sport offer excitement?

2)      Is it fan friendly, easy to understand, enjoyable to watch?

3)      Do advertisers get a reasonable return on investment?

4)      Are you epitomizing the tenets of good sportsmanship and fair play that is the bedrock of the Olympic movement?

For some sports this is no big deal, its business as usual. For others, internal reviews are new to them. For FILA, well, we’re wrestling, we don’t need to change.

All of which leads us to the IOC’s decision to eliminate wrestling. When they began their most recent review of sports, the one that stood out as falling short in each of the categories was wrestling. Being one of the original sports in the Olympic Games wasn’t a criterion. But in that enviable position FILA and USAWrestling had ultimate accountability to protect man’s oldest sport.

Unfortunately leadership failed us; FILA was arrogant and USAW was apathetic, as were all the other countries that have executive officers serving on FILA’s Board. Unforgiveable. This wasn’t a minor cut or scrape, it was a terminal heart attack and for those whom we entrusted with its health, it should be terminal there as well. Everything starts at the top and in that role it should end there too.

There you have; Who’s to Blame? Next week I’ll focus on What are the Odds?

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5 thoughts on “2020 Olympic Wrestling – It’s Wrestling’s Fault

  1. Hi there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why
    but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same results.

  2. Chris . . . thank you for your recent post. Readership is appreciated, your comments are always welcome.

    I believe the IOC gave some weight to each of the four I listed but focused on the one you overlooked, the last one.

    Remember gymnastics, figure skating and diving of previous decades and the how the judges tended to side with one country over another. The IOC forced them to clean up their act or risk expulsion from the Games. They took the hit and then did so.

    Now we participate in a sport where every international rule of late has been designed to keep match outcomes close so others can manipulate results if and when they so choose. Remember, we’re in a sport that determines over half of its major outcomes through the use of a black bag. No other sport and only two professions that I’m aware of utilize black bags; magicians and mob bosses collecting racketeering income.

    As much as we don’t want to hear this or I want to write about it . . . the only way back is to understand all of our challenges and make significant changes, regardless of how much they hurt.

  3. I agree that wrestling has not marketed its sport well, but I also believe that if the IOC truly drops the sport from the 2012 Olympics, the Olympics will be become not only less rich in its history, but also less popular overall. Part of the appeal of the Olympics is for amateur sport athletes to be able to see the best in their sports compete. If the IOC thinks they are going to compete with World Cup Soccer, NBA, MLB, NFL, etc. They are sadly mistaken. It just won’t happen. It only happens every four years, two if you count winter olympics, the sports they do feature aren’t more popular than wrestling, much less baseball, basketball, football, or soccer. I am a wrestling coach and this is a sad thing for the wrestling community. I’m not really looking to blame anyone, but you could be right that wrestling has itself to blame. That said, even many non wrestlers have come to me saying that they thought that the IOC’s decision makes little or no sense. Remember that this is a venue that features competitive ribbon dancing. I have nothing against that, but I can’t think that sport 1. Offers more excitement 2. Is easier to understand 3. That advertisers get a better return on their investments.

  4. Wade,
    First, thank you for your courageous position on this issue and saying what needs to be said. Leadership has failed this sport and I have been hoping someone with your stature and leadership would rise up and say it how it needed to be said. I now see USAW and FILA profiting off their very own complacency and lack of foresight. This could have been avoided and now we find ourselved in a crisis situation because leadership has failed this sport. Tough words, but this is a tough sport that needed more attention and strategic vision. Wrestling will only survive if we become better than our competitors in marketing and branding this most sacred and time honored sport. We could have done better and we need to do better. I am sharing below a commentary I provided to a similar post “Wrestlers in Business” when this happened weeks ago. I hope it resonates with you and your readers.

    Thank you for your leadership Wade!
    Take care,
    Rich Killingsworth

    Article Posted on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Wrestlers in Business websites.

    The Politics of Sport: Wrestling’s Demise at the Hands of Wrestling’s Leadership:

    The outcome of what happened last week at the IOC meeting shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who is close to the sport of wrestling. In short, wrestling, especially in the United States and its leadership has not done enough to brand, market, and sell the amazing sport of wrestling nationally and internationally. Keeping in mind that wrestling was in essence the ultimate and most glorified of all sports in the ancient Olympic Games. Yet, somehow, over time and really over the past fifty years, we have let that recognition slip away and have been living on the laurels of our past, a proud sport, with deep tradition that transcends generations of those who have participated in it. Unfortunately, we are now in an era that glorifies those who can seemingly market, advocate, and petition better than their competitor – this is the age of who can sell, not who has history. Sadly, and arguably, this is where wrestling and its leadership has not performed well. There is no excuse for not being aware of what was going to happen at the IOC discussions in Lausanne.

    Our leadership – whether it is FILA, USOC, USA Wrestling, or any other governing body – should have had a sense of what was coming, an inkling, and some notion that this was going to happen. If there is an argument that they didn’t know or weren’t aware, I would beg the question as to whether they were doing their jobs of promoting wrestling. A sport that has one of the deepest and most cherished roots in the Olympic movement, and a sport they were elected and paid to keep secure and viable, and that didn’t happen. It would also beg the question as to whether our leadership is establishing the national and international relationships we need to promote and advance this sport. It would appear that we could do better when wrestling’s leadership wasn’t aware of what was going to happen this past week. This was a painful lesson and regrettably someone was asleep at the helm, and as a result we have placed a highly respected sport, one of the most ancient and valued sports in harm’s way.

    With this said, this doesn’t diminish the fact that the IOC is culpable in what has happened. When 15 politically-influenced people on the IOC Executive Board can make a recommendation that wrestling should not be included as a core sport it clearly showed what is wrong with the IOC, an organization which has a long history of alleged corruption and favoritism. It also demonstrates how the Olympic Games are moving from a everyman’s dream to a rich man’s pursuit. Consider the sports of equestrian, fencing, golf, sailing, and modern pentathlon. These are sports with a limited number of international athletes, limited access who can participate, and are sports that require significant funding and influence to manage and promote. One would have to question how these sports (as meaningful as they may be to those athletes) could ever be compared to a historic sport such as wrestling and determined to be of greater relevance to the Olympic movement. It is something to consider.

    With the IOC recommendation now moving forward, wrestling has to compete against baseball, softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding (not created until the mid-1980s) and wushu (a sport that wasn’t even defined until the 1950s) for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program as an additional sport. The likelihood of that happening is limited, but it is possible. How is it possible? Well, our sport – its leadership, athletes, friends, family, aligned funders and other influentials (i.e. corporate ceos and politicians) need to apply significant, if not painful pressure on the IOC immediately and up until the presentations are made to the Executive Board at its meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, in May. Something has to change when this is the process for how a sport can come and go in the Olympic Games. Yes, something is hugely wrong with the IOC when wrestling, one of the world’s largest and most participated sports, a sacred tradition is some parts of the world, can have its fate determined by 15 politically-influenced people who probably never touched a wrestling mat, let alone looked a wrestler in the eye to understand his quest for excellence. That is the ice cold hard reality of the 21st century politics involved in a movement that pretends to be void of politics.

    Let us all remember the Olympic Creed which has apparently been forgotten by the 15 member Executive Board of the IOC….

    “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

    Wrestling is the epitome of the Olympics, its Creed, and movement. It is what we all aspire to achieve whether in our struggle in the sport or in life, wrestling teaches us the discipline to pursue excellence both with dignity and humility. The essence of our sport and those who participated in it can be captured in the words below I authored many years ago when wrestling shaped me into the person I needed become and still try to be.

    “A wrestler is an athlete above all others. His destiny is one of courage, devotion, and perseverance. He must have the bravery to meet his opponent alone in battle when others want to stand to the rear. He must have the dedication to excel when others want to quit. He must endure through the trials of training and competition when others want to sit. It is these traits and experiences that cause a wrestler to weep…not for him, but for others who will never comprehend the sacrifices that shaped him into much more than an athlete, and into a man prepared to champion life.”

    Please, let’s work together to save a sport that is so deserving to be in the Olympics, now and forever.

    God bless,
    Rich Killingsworth

  5. Very well said Wade. You would think that a bunch of ex-wrestlers would understand that complacency and arrogance leads to losing. Everybody loses if this is not undone, especially the kids.

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