Classic old sport of wrestling just doesn't seem sexy enough in age of TV
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There is madness to the method of the International Olympic Committee's recommendation on Tuesday to throw wrestling out of the Games after a mere 3,000 years.
The not-so-benevolent leaders of the IOC -- a mightily political and secretive bunch -- never fully explain such decisions. But their claim of "renewing and renovating" goes along with a habit of choosing flash over substance ever since the Olympics began to generate enormous profits with the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
This is all about marketing and television ratings which, the IOC appears to conclude, flow from three modern basics: marquee names, women in brief costumes and video-friendly action aimed at the younger generation. In that universe, wrestling just isn't sexy enough.
"That," said University of Texas Germanic professor John Hoberman, who has written extensively about Olympic history, "is a reasonable hypothesis."
So, while Hoberman finds the move "very surprising, given the tradition of this iconic, ancient Greek sport," he also judges the IOC "is not a principled group of people. What they have to offer is what I call show-business internationalism, as opposed to humanitarian internationalism."
In the early 1990s, NBA stars were welcomed into what the IOC had long contended was an amateur-only operation -- at the very time when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were global celebrities. For 2016, golf has been added, virtually rolling out a red carpet for Tiger Woods and the attention he will bring.
The IOC's admirable push for gender equality morphed some time ago into something closer to "Baywatch," with specific minimum-attire rules for women's beach volleyball players. Back in 1984, male gymnast Bart Conner explained the extra focus on women in his sport -- "one word: leotards" -- and since then the Olympic "look" has included plenty of bikinis.
To lure a younger audience, both winter and Summer Olympics have embraced the human pyrotechnics of half-pipe snowboarding, BMX (bicycle motocross) and other daredevil events.
"What can you say when beach volleyball becomes an Olympic sport?" Hoberman said. "These are marketing things. Everybody knows what everybody is looking at."
As the Olympics grew exponentially after the L.A. Games, there was logic to the IOC's edict in the new century to cap the total number of Summer Olympians at 10,500, and the number of sports at 28.
But, to accommodate those limits, big-money factors quickly began to rule the day. Baseball was dropped after the 2008 Games because that sport's international federation failed to recruit major-league stars.
And, with the Olympic menu now down to 25, among the odd sports lining up for consideration are rock climbing, squash, the Chinese martial arts sport of wushu, in-line skating and wakeboard (a combination of snowboarding and water skiing; more extreme stuff).
Naturally, the blindsided wrestling community is outraged, citing not only the sport's long Olympic history but the fact that wrestling is one of the world's most widely practiced sports: 29 different nations won wrestling medals at the 2012 London Games, and all three of the countries with candidate cities to stage the 2020 Olympics -- Japan, Turkey and Spain -- have strong wrestling traditions.
"But remember," Hoberman said, "90 percent of the TV market is not going to be in those countries." Hmmm.
IOC president Jacques Rogge on Wednesday said he would meet with wrestling's international chief, Raphael Martinetti, and it is possible that the dump-wrestling move could be reversed later this year. For now, though, the IOC has wrestling in an uncomfortable half nelson.
It's enough to make an Olympic patriot cry "Uncle."