Abbott: Wrestling out of the Olympics? Don't count us out yet
The big news in worldwide sports this week was the recommendation by the International Olympic Committee's executive board that wrestling be removed as a core sport, starting with the 2020 Olympic Games. The unexpected announcement sent shock waves around the globe, not only in gymnasiums and locker rooms but also in the homes of sports fans everywhere.
The IOC has a long list of criteria for inclusion in the Olympics. An official statement wasn't issued about the reasoning for eliminating wrestling -- the board said it wasn't about the sport but about "what is best for the Olympics."
Wrestling has always been part of the Olympics. It's considered the oldest sport known to man, with proof going back to ancient cave drawings. It was included in the ancient Olympic Games in Greece, and has been included since the modern Olympics were launched in 1896.
Wrestling is popular; almost 200 nations participating in the sport in organized events. Many cultures have their own traditional wrestling styles. The sport is truly diverse, providing opportunities for all to compete, regardless of race, gender or physical characteristics. There's a saying in wrestling that "anybody can wrestle," and it's something wrestlers truly believe.
The ultimate fate of Olympic wrestling will be determined in meetings of the IOC scheduled in May and in September. Meanwhile, the wrestling community is already organizing an all-out effort to keep the sport.
For those of us involved in the sport, it's very difficult not to take the IOC recommendation personally. Wrestlers share a bond based on the respect that comes from hard work and effort.
We have a passion for wrestling, which often must battle for public recognition and support. In the United States, there is no professional league for real wrestling offering million-dollar salaries, nor is there a major TV-network contract. Usually, people learn about wrestling firsthand, through a coach in school or someone else in the sport. We brag that it's one of the last pure sports on Earth: one-on-one competition, with no equipment and no teammates, a test of a person's abilities and preparation. We also talk about its lifelong impact. As legend Dan Gable says, "Once you have wrestled, everything else in life is easy."
I began wrestling in 1972 as a seventh-grader at Oldfields Junior High in Greenlawn, then was a varsity wrestler at Harborfields High for three years. After competing in college in Boston, I made wrestling journalism my professional career. I've attended seven Olympic Games. Although the rules of international wrestling differ from our high school and college styles, the intensity of the action is compelling, and the skills of the athletes are off the charts.
The lessons I've learned -- discipline, goal-setting, perseverance and respect -- have guided my life, and there are millions of former and current wrestlers who feel exactly the same way.
The Olympics without wrestling? We don't think that way. Wrestlers are now working tirelessly to change this recommendation. Overcoming obstacles is a foundation of our life philosophy. If things don't go our way in this process, we won't stop coming until the sport is back in the Olympics.
But, no matter what happens with the Olympics, remember that wrestling has been around since the start of human civilization, and I fully believe it will be here until the end. Yes, it will be much more difficult for our sport to maintain itself and grow without having the Olympic dream at the end of the journey. And we will have to do an even better job selling our sport and explaining the values it teaches.
But don't ever count wrestlers out. We're used to standing up for the sport we love.
Gary Abbott is director of communications for USA Wrestling, the national governing body for wrestling, which manages the sport from youth programs through the Olympic Games.