FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – The International Olympic Committee decided Tuesday to drop wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games, igniting a firestorm a controversy from supporters of the sport in Fairfield County.
“I am surprised but not stunned,’’ said Randy Haus, president of the Norwalk Mad Bulls junior wrestling program. “Over the past 30 years, true amateurism is supported less and less. Sports like skateboarding and snowboarding have big corporations behind them with a lot to gain.”
Most observers thought the modern pentathlon was the event most at risk of being dropped from the 25 “core sports” by the IOC. The decision was made by secret ballots over several rounds. The modern pentathlon, field hockey and taekwondo were also considered for elimination.
The IOC executive board will meet in May to determine which sport will replace wrestling. Baseball and softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu, a form of martial arts, will be among those considered. Wrestling could also be voted back in, but that seems unlikely.
“It caught us off guard,’’ said Stamford’s John Kijek, Connecticut athletic director for USA Wrestling. “We’re looking at steps now to keep it from happening. Even though the odds are severely stacked against us, we think we can advocate to get it back in place.”
Wrestling is losing many of its top athletes to mixed martial arts after college, which has hurt wrestling’s growth, Kijek said. He believes that is one of the major reasons for the decision to remove wrestling from the Olympics.
“Mixed martial arts is bringing us more wrestlers and athletic kids at younger ages, but it’s hurting the international wrestling scene,’’ said Kijek, a former vice president of Stamford Junior Wrestling who now provides private lessons in wrestling and martial arts at a studio in Stamford. “After high school or college, they can go to MMA and there’s much more monetary gain. For wrestlers to get paid they’ll give you a monthly fund to live on and that’s it. It’s like a continuous college education.”
Although wrestling is popular in the United States, the IOC’s decision will be particularly devastating to some European countries, Russia and other countries from the former Soviet Union. Russia won 11 wrestling medals at the 2012 Summer Games, including four gold. Wrestling was part of the first modern Olympics in 1896.
“I feel most sad for Eastern European and Eurasian countries where wrestling is their national pastime,’’ Haus said. “It must be devastating to their national psyche to see their heroes and countries rendered irrelevant and obsolete.”