Grappling with the process for wrestling to stay Olympian

A primer, with Q & A, on the Olympic sports program

Dan Gable (top) in his final-round match with Soviet Ruslan Ashuraliev at the 1972 Olympics.  (Tribune file photo)

Dan Gable (top) in his final-round match with Soviet Ruslan Ashuraliev at the 1972 Olympics. (Tribune file photo)

Now we are going to see how obstinate the International Olympic Committee can be.

Its two traditional sports superpower nations, the United States and Russia, both have vowed to do everything possible to overturn the IOC executive board decision to dump wrestling from the Olympic program beginning in 2020.

The USA announced Monday has formed a committee chaired by Chicago banker and Olympic bronze medalist Bill Scherr that includes many of the greatest wrestlers in history, including Olympic champions Bruce Baumgartner, Dan Gable, Rulon Gardner and John Smith.  It is called the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling.

Russia led the effort last weekend that forced out the president of the international wrestling federation (FILA), Raphael Martinetti of Switzerland, whose head-in-the-sand approach to wrestling’s Olympic future contributed to its being on the outside looking in.  One of Russia's legendary wrestlers, three-time gold medalist Alexander Karelin, has been named to FILA's governing bureau.

“We will look for a compromise and ways to convince the members of the International Olympic Committee that this sport, which was part of the ancient games and is loved by hundreds of millions of people across the globe, should remain,” Mikhail Mamiashvili, a Russian member of the FILA bureau, told Bloomberg.

The problem with blaming Martinetti for everything is there is no legitimate reason wrestling should have been dropped, even if he did not take steps to make the sport more attractive to modern TV audiences or make his case to the IOC as it undertook a review of its “core sports” over the past seven years.

Martinetti’s bigger mistake likely was not acting as a proper sycophant in the manner the IOC likes.

As wrestling supporters prepare their case to have the sport remain in the Summer Olympics, there are a lot of questions about the process.

Here are a few, with answers courtesy of the International Olympic Committee's communications department.

But first, a little background.

The IOC has set a maximum of 28 sports in the Summer Olympics.

Under its terms, a "sport" can include several disciplines, even if they seem like separate sports.

For instance: "aquatics" includes swimming, synchronized swimming, diving and water polo; "gymnastics" includes artistic gymnastics (that's the one most think of as gymnastics - Nadia and Olga and Mary Lou and Gabby's sport), plus rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline; "canoeing" includes canoe and kayak. 

There were just 26 sports in the London Olympics because baseball and softball were dropped from the program after 2008, and the IOC's membership had rejected all five candidates to replace them for 2012.

In 2009, golf and rugby sevens were added to the program for the 2016 Olympics, bringing the sports total to 28 for the Rio Games, which could be wrestling's last.

The IOC decided in 2007 to have its 15-member executive board (EB) vote on 25 "core sports."  That was done Tuesday, with the recommended removal of wrestling. (For the list of "core sports" click here.)

The 2007 move also included new voting procedures for adding and removing sports that mean the "core" group is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future, even though the sports program is reviewed after every Olympics.  

The ouster of wrestling leaves one opening for 2020, with eight sports (including wrestling) as candidates. The others: baseball/softball (now calling themselves one sport, each a single-gender event), karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu.

At its upcoming May meeting, the IOC executive board will decide which of the eight to recommend for the vote on inclusion.

The full IOC membership will vote on the choice of sport at its annual meeting - known as the Session - in September.  It can leave a vacancy, although the change in voting rules makes that less likely.

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