This isn’t to cast aspirations on a lazy afternoon game we played as kids, swinging wildly at a feathered shuttlecock. But even played by “professionals,” it seems a stretch as an Olympic sport, one we found out in the London Games was badly manipulated.
Not so with wrestling, a core sport of both the ancient and modern Games. But if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has its way, by 2020 the noble sport will be removed from the Games, most likely to be replaced by something esoteric that officials believe is more suitable today. Maybe that will be Tiddly Winks, with special recognition going to some all-star left or right Tiddly on both men’s and women’s teams.
My son was a high-school wrestler and a pretty good one, too. I spent any number of hours watching him, twisting and turning with his every move, grunting at his exertion. Before he took it up, I had little experience either as a participant or a spectator, because my high school offered only the primary sports of the day: football, basketball, baseball and track.
I’d always thought of wrestling as one of those activities that only parents bothered to attend. Besides, I envisioned it as the theatrical performance of studied, controlled mayhem that early television made so popular. That was born out of pure, small-town ignorance. It was nothing of the kind. It was a scientifically calculated exercise of balance and leverage, testing not only physical strength but also mental acuity.
The first time I went to a meet, I was dumbfounded to find the gymnasium nearly filled with enthusiastic students and adults, including cheerleaders and other noisemakers and special effects typical at basketball or volleyball games. After the first few meets, I was hooked. My son wrestled at the top weight level; he could have done so in college but accepted a football scholarship instead.
Since then, I’ve had little occasion to go to a meet, although I have never lost my respect for the sport, its participants and the men who coach it. They are a special breed, and they deserve far better than the IOC has in mind.
Are these international judges nuts?
Probably not, but anyone who has spent time around the Games knows they’re susceptible to pressures, influences and just plain money. That’s another story, one that never has been completely told despite the scandal lurking around the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Fortunately, Mitt Romney straightened out the problems.
That gives me an idea: If the group that runs international wrestling competitions wants to have a real chance at overturning the IOC’s heresy, why not hire Romney? The defeated Republican presidential candidate isn’t doing much these days, and his business and administrative acumen is unquestionable. Few know the ins and outs of Olympic politics as well as the former Massachusetts governor does. And he’s scrupulously honest, which in some Olympic circles seems a novel trait.
While attending the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, I remember wondering how such an out-of-the-way place was chosen. Then I realized that many of the hotels near various venues were owned by a big-money investor with influential connections to the committee’s top echelon. Surprise!
Here’s the point. Why tinker with the success of a sport in which 75 of the globe’s nations participate? The Greeks, who began the Games, understood wrestling was an important test. So did those who reinstituted the modern, worldwide event in the late 19th century.
I even have a slogan for the cause: “Pin the IOC.”
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.