What happens when one of the oldest institutions in the world forgets its roots in favor of building a newly “renovated” image? What does it mean when our society favors pursuit of profit rather than pursuit of personal excellence?
Perhaps you’ve heard by now of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to drop wrestling from the Olympic program starting in the 2020 games, and depending on your familiarity with the sport your reaction may have been anything between casual indifference and pure outrage. But before you dismiss this news release as irrelevant, seeing as the games are 8 years on the horizon, consider this: Wrestling is one of the world’s oldest sports. While it was present in the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, it is an event that has been championed by humankind as far back as the Ancient Greeks.
What’s more, we Canadians are good at it. Over the last four summer games we have won six medals, five of which in the womens event introduced in the Athens 2004 games. In relegating the wrestling event out of a final group containing modern pentathlon, taekwondo, and field hockey, we have significantly affected our medal chances as a country. As viewers, we all know this is all we really care about (as well as jumping on any opportunity to beat the United States). Therefore, this is a matter concerning the nation, not just the wrestling community.
The Olympic Creed, as stated by the IOC press, states: “The most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.” If wrestling does not represent the truest, most pure interpretation of that creed, the IOC has sold out the fundamental purpose of the Olympic Games in favour of an alternate agenda. Instead of forming their attitudes from the original values of the organization and the sporting community as a whole, the IOC based their decision off a report devoid of official rankings and recommendations. Furthermore, the report consisted of criteria largely rooted in popularity factors such as ticket sales and television ratings.
In Tuesday’s press release, IOC representative Mark Adams claimed that “It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the 25 core sports” and that the decision was reached based on the “collective intelligence” of the executive board. The glaring hypocrisy that accompanies the rest of the IOC’s statement gives indication that perhaps the entire Olympic program, in its efforts to “renew and renovate”, has lost sight of what’s right about international competition as a whole.
The prestige of the Olympic games is based on its rich historical fabric, on its ability to unite and inspire athletes of all ages in competition and in pursuit of personal excellence. By dismissing an event so integral to the heritage of the Olympic games, the IOC is sending the message that tradition – the foundation for which athletes dedicate their lives to be a part of – will no longer be a priority in the games to come. Stripping meaning from the games not only violates the IOC’s purpose as an organization, it threatens the motivational reserves that give athletes the fire to compete. If the Olympics slide into a period that pays no homage to the very fabric it is constructed of, it is no longer the pre-eminent event for individuals to prove their athletic excellence on the global scale. Less tradition equates to less “purpose” for athletes, contributing to a weakened competitive drive, and ultimately fewer outstanding achievements for viewers in the long run – which is ironically what the committee is striving for at present.
People, we are in a time where it has become ethically ambiguous whether performance-enhancing drugs are acceptable in the sporting arena. Every year it seems that the achievements of another childhood hero are disputed as athlete after athlete confesses to doping in its various forms. The issue here is larger than how many medals can Michael Phelps win in his next Olympics, because we are nearing a point where those medals might just become meaningless. The issue pertains to the integrity of sport as a whole and whether it is important enough to all of us to protect.
The relegation of wrestling from the Olympic program is the first step of a long decline of an organization that has persevered through world wars, genocides, and human tragedy of every form. What has sustained it through times of hardship and adversity has not been its ability to profit from the coverage it grants viewers around the world, it is in its ability to meaningfully connect to the human spirit and ignite – in every one of us – the desire to be better, do better, and in doing so make the world a better place.
For anyone who has ever felt the connection inspired by the events or stories of the Olympic games, consider signing this petition to help keep wrestling in the Olympic program. It is a small part you can play in helping to keep values in sport.
For those of you interested in the sport of wrestling in general, consider coming out to the 2012-2013 Canada West Playoffs held this weekend (February 15th – 17th) in the University of Alberta Butterdome to witness athletic competition in its purest form.
CC photograph courtesy of simononly on Flickr.