POSTED: March 6th 2013

JOHN GOODBODY: How to modernize the Games and maintain tradition

Wrestling is fighting for its Olympic existence / FILA
Wrestling is fighting for its Olympic existence / FILA

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

March 6 - The international uproar that has greeted the possibility of wrestling being omitted from the Olympic Games has once again confronted the guardians of the world’s biggest sports event with an enduring dilemma. How do you keep modernising the event but still remain faithful to its historic  traditions?

The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee has, quite understandably, been looking at the global popularity of the different sports. Wrestling, slightly surprisingly, was dropped from being one of the 25 core sports. In September, it must now battle alongside the other contenders : baseball/softball; squash;karate ;sport climbing;wake boarding; wushu and roller sports for a place on the 2020 programme.

I must declare an interest.  Wrestling is a sport, which I enjoyed enormously when I used it a training for competitive judo. It is splendidly confrontational and has a long tradition in the Games, being a key part of the Ancient Olympics and being on the programme of every Modern Games except for 1900. It is cheap, requires little equipment and is therefore an ideal sport for under-developed countries. It also demands a high level of physical and technical ability.

Some of the most celebrated figures in the history of the Olympics have been wrestlers. One has admired over the years men such as American Dan Gable, who was so dedicated in preparing for his freestyle title in 1972 that he disappeared before one medal ceremony –only to be finally discovered in the sauna bath doing press-ups.

Then, in the Greco-Roman style, there was the Russian Aleksandr Karelin, once described as “The bouncer in the meanest bar in hell”, who was unbeaten as a super-heavyweight between 1987 and 2000, and was voted by the international sportswriters association as one of the 25 greatest sportsmen and women of the 20th century.

One fully understands the difficulty that the IOC faces. All international federations want to get their sports into the Games. Inclusion gives both a stamp of approval and a passport to publicity and, in many countries, automatic government funding for the relevant national associations.

What the IOC should do to relieve itself at least partially of this problem is to come up with a radical solution, just as they did 20 years ago. Then, the IOC sensibly decided to have the Summer and Winter Games staged in different years, whereas previously they had always been held in the same year. This change has helped with marketing, sponsorship and promoting Olympism and has proved eminently successful.

For most countries, the Summer Games have always been  the more important of the two celebrations and so now the IOC should look at increasing the interest in the Winter Games by scrapping the insistence that all activities in the Winter Games must be held on snow and ice.

Instead, consideration should be given to including two or three indoor sports (which usually take place in the winter anyway) on the programme. These could be taken from, say, any of the following: weightlifting, fencing, table tennis, taekwondo, judo  and, of course, wrestling.

All they need for competition is a large indoor arena, which recent hosts, such as Salt Lake City, Turin and Vancouver have had. This facility for future hosts, even if they don’t already have them, would have a ready after-life for exhibitions and many sports events. Such a change would also boost interest in the Winter Games because more countries would be interested and it is also a move that surely both television and the sponsors would welcome.

The IOC should aim to encourage people to take part in sport and by adopting this fundamental change they would do so. It would also help wrestling retain its deserved position in the Games.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · Wrestling · IOC ·

For more information contact:
Laura Walden ()

All original materials contained in this section are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Sports Features Communications, Inc the owner of that content. It is prohibited to alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.