Olympic Wrestling in Danger: IOC, FILA and What Needs to Be Done

By Jordan Breen Feb 13, 2013
With 24 hours of screaming about the IOC’s decision to kibosh amateur wrestling from the 2020 Games now in the books, Mike Riordan has a lovely little synopsis of the actual cold, hard facts of the situation over at BloodyElbow.com. If you’re someone who cares about amateur wrestling, MMA, the Olympics or learning things, read it.

More specifically, I want to hone in on a few points that are particularly important but not getting nearly as much play as they should:

- The rules of the international styles currently suck. Riordan brings up the fact that rule changes to the international styles, especially Greco-Roman, have created more passivity and actually hurt the sports. This is true. However, it goes beyond that. People try to characterize folkstyle wrestling you see in the NCAA as defensive and concerned with control over takedowns, because of aspects like riding time. However, the changes to freestyle and Greco-Roman at the international level have engendered an environment where you can stall off of your back, “win” the infamous grab-a-colored-ball-out-of-the-bag portion, push your competitor out of bounds and win 1-0. At any point when a derivation of wrestling is essentially determined by an athlete reaching his hand into a velvet bag and choosing a colored ball, there is a problem. Despite the athletes being nowhere near as good or internationally represented, I’d rather watch the NCAA Championships over the FILA World Championships ever year, without fail, and it’s entirely to do with the rules and the kind of wrestling they produce.

- FILA got caught napping. If you’re FILA, how is your top priority at all times not simply, “Make sure wrestling stays in the Olympics?” It’s not a secret that the IOC have been nagging the organization to make wrestling more appealing to your average international television watcher (whatever the hell that means). FILA was legitimately shocked by getting booted, even though wrestling had the most votes to be eliminated from the 2020 Games in each round of IOC voting. Some foresight would be nice.

- There are no benefits to MMA other than short-term ones. Sure, some collegiate wrestlers might opt for an earlier MMA career because there’s no Olympic gold to pursue. However, if there is no Olympic gold to pursue, why will kids step on the mat in the first place? Even the wrestlers who dive straight into MMA from the mats dreamt of Olympic gold, to stand on the podium, holding beaucoup bouquets. It is that vision, that notion of potential accomplishment and greatness that makes kids, teens and men toil endlessly in the room and, in turn, makes them great. Without a philosophical prize at the end of the rainbow, what's the sport worth? Who is going to wrestle their whole life just to win the FILA World Championship?

Ultimately, I think Riordan’s piece is crucial because it sets out a truer vision of what the IOC hopes to accomplish and that is not the elimination of amateur wrestling but the altering of amateur wrestling. Frankly, the IOC’s goal is led by an inane set of criteria -- making the sport more “fan-friendly” and not “confusing spectators” and other such nonsense -- but it may actually address the fact that previous attempts to make amateur wrestling more watchable have failed drastically and actually hurt the sport. This creates a cascading effect in which many athletes who train their asses off to nab an Olympic medal no longer feel a wrestling match adequately determines a better grappler. I don’t think I need to tell MMA fans what happens when you have no faith in the system.

Finally, roller sports can wheelie right into a cesspool. Sorry, Mike Budnik.

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