The International Olympic Committee’s decision to remove wrestling from the list of Olympic sports allowed in the 2020 edition of the tournament has shocked wrestling associations the world over—including in India—and has produced swift responses criticising the move by various governments. The shock comes, in part, because nobody was expecting wrestling to be ruled out of the list, but also because of the widely-reported reasons for the sport being sidelined. One major reason was the supposed lower viewership wrestling garners. But this is an absurd claim, especially since the other sport that could have been axed—the modern pentathlon—has a far smaller following across the world, and has a much lower number of countries participating in it. The real reason behind the decision to include the modern pentathlon instead of wrestling is widely reported to be the fact that the modern pentathlon has the backing of Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, the son of the previous IOC president, among others. The International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), on the other hand, failed to campaign for the inclusion of wrestling as it believed the sport wasn’t at risk of being axed.
Wrestling has been a part of the Olympics since 708 BC—that’s more than 2,700 years—and is a unique sport, having changed considerably to keep abreast with the times. The modern pentathlon, which includes pistol shooting, fencing, 200-m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a 3-km cross-country run, features sports that are already in the Olympics separately. The IOC’s decision isn’t final yet—it can still be appealed—but most experts agree that it’s a lost cause. A loss, indeed. Of culture and the very roots the Olympics was built on.