The International Olympic Committee executive board recently recommended wrestling be cut from the 2020 Games during a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The announcement that a sport dating to ancient times and synonymous with the modern Olympics since 1896 was getting the axe sent shockwaves through the wrestling community (amateur and pro).
Among the most vocal of their displeasure was TNA Impact Wrestling star Kurt Angle, who took home Olympic gold for Team USA in heavyweight freestyle wrestling at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
“There were several sports on the table that were looked to be dropped,” he said. “I believe that there were a lot of representatives from different sports there fighting for their sport not to be dropped. I believe that the world governing body of wrestling took it for granted that there was no way in heck they were going to drop wrestling.
“I think they might have dropped the ball a little bit and didn’t show up to fight. I’ve heard that the former IOC president was a pentathlete and his son (Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr.) is on the committee….I believe they were going for either badminton or wrestling, and they chose wrestling, which completely baffles me considering badminton is pretty much a recreation sport. Wrestling is the oldest sport in the world and very competitive worldwide, so I’m not sure how this happened. I don’t believe anyone in the wrestling community thought wrestling would get dropped.”
For Angle and many others in and out of the sport, the fight to keep wrestling alive in the Olympics has just started. Online petitions and campaigns have formed in growing numbers.
“As long as we continue to have the support we’ve had and it continues on, I believe we will get it back and that wrestling will be part of the Olympics,” Angle, 44, said. “I can’t imagine the Olympics without having wrestling in it, considering it’s the world’s oldest sport. There is so much history to it and so much tradition. When you think of the Olympics, you think of Greco-Roman wrestling; you think of track-and-field. You aren’t really thinking of badminton or trampoline or ballroom dancing or other sports.
“I’m not picking on them. I’m just saying they aren’t traditional. I don’t know what the reasoning was. I’m sure they considered wrestling as not a female watched sport. I know a lot of females that watch the Olympics, and that could have something to do with it. We started having female wrestling to get our female audience more involved and invested with female wrestling. So I don’t know how wrestling can get dropped. Wrestling to the Olympics is pretty much like what the 100-meter dash is to track-and-field. I don’t know how you have the Olympics without wrestling. I’m still baffled by it, but I’m going to fight it every bit of the way for it.”
This isn’t the first time a sports has been dropped by the IOC. In 2005, baseball and softball were removed from the Olympics, but wrestling has a global appeal.
Without wrestling in the Olympics, a number of countries may not be represented. The impact would be devastating internationally, as well as in the United States.
“There are countries that only have two or three sports,” Angle said. “They depend on Olympic wrestling and take pride in it. It means everything to them. When you win the gold medal, you are considered a folk hero or national hero. There are a lot of countries like that, especially in the Middle East and other countries.