In February, the International Olympic Committee voted to drop wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games. But this week the sport of antiquity rose from the mat. On Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Russia, the IOC decided that wrestling, squash and baseball/softball deserved consideration for the one open spot on the 2020 program. Bill Littlefield discussed the development with the Boston Globe’s John Powers.
BL: John, why can’t the IOC make up its mind about wrestling?
JP: Oh this is just nuts. First we had a takedown, now it appears to have been a reversal. What is very confusing about this, the whole idea was to add a sport to the 2020 program. And the idea was it would be a new sport. So instead what they’re coming up with is three sports, one of which is squash which we think the IOC members think is a vegetable, plus baseball/softball which is now a combined entity which they’d actually dropped. It’s just baffling and I think what they’re now going to do is force the whole membership in September to pick one among the three. I mean a lot of people seem to think they’ll let wrestling back in having given them a whomp upside the head.
BL: Baseball/softball is one of the sports that could make it back to the Summer Games. But do the Lords of the Rings know those sports aren’t quite the same?
JP: Well I think that was the feeling when they originally dropped both sports is the IOC members, very few of whom know anything about the Raybestos Brakettes, they thought they were the same sport. And I think now what’s happened is baseball and softball are one federation so if anything that might make for more confusion. They have done a few things to try to make it more attractive. It will be shorter tournaments at one venue. But they still won’t have the best major league players there. So they really haven’t improved what they needed to improve.
BL: Left off the list were wakeboarding, roller sports, sport climbing, and the martial arts of karate and wushu. What does that say about the direction the IOC would like to take over the next decade or two?
JP: Well I think the basic idea was to try to get something new, but maybe that’s a bit too new. But what is interesting here is the reason why squash was taken, they were under consideration for 2012 and 2016 and didn’t make it. And if you want to give the Lords of the Rings an option for one new sport, that’s the new sport. Otherwise they have to go back to the future.
BL: There are consequences for sports that get voted out of the Olympics, financial consequences among others, right?
JP: Absolutely, I think that’s been a big issue for wrestling which is already having issues in the US. You have a lot of colleges are dropping it. And there’s a sense that if you want to be in the Olympics and your sport isn’t in there then why be in that sport? It would not be the death knell for wrestling but it certainly will not help it in places like the US where it’s already struggling.
BL: The IOC is scheduled to take a final vote on this matter in early September, when it will also determine the site of the 2020 Summer Olympics. Which sport do you think makes it in?
JP: I think that they will let wrestling back in. Among other reasons, for example, Vladimir Putin has said he thinks that wrestling belongs in there and he’s paying the bill for the next winter games in Sochi. These things shouldn’t matter, but they do.