Going For Olympic Gold

In its wisdom, the International Olympic Committee recently decided to drop wrestling from its “core sports” group. Wrestling will now have to vie with seven other sports for a single spot on the 2020 Olympics — and the betting is wrestling will not make it in. And the even safer bet is it’s all about money. So what else is new?

Wrestling, which goes back  to the first “modern” Olympics in 1896 in Athens — and almost certainly dates back to the games played by warring city-states in ancient Greece –will be replaced by (wait for it) GOLF! That’s right, the game that requires grace, quickness, agility, and strength will be replaced by a game for middle-aged Republicans. I exaggerate, of course: one of the professional golfers who is eligible to compete for this country in the Olympics is a Democrat — or so we are told. But it is also true that some of those who will compete will have problems lining up their putts because of the large gut that obtrudes. Is it just me, or does this whole thing seem almost sacrilegious?

In any event, this is clearly a sign of the times when money trumps tradition and long-time wrestling coach Vic Stanley, who commented on the recent decision, is surely correct in saying that the Committee is simply “following the money.” It’s a trend that started when the I.O.C. decided to drop altogether the distinction between amateur and professional — admitting, sadly, that it was a distinction without a difference as so many countries were paying the athletes and keeping them apart from the ordinary athletes in the lap of luxury. It was the same problems the tennis world had many years ago when they dropped the distinction and “opened” tennis to all players. It seems the “amateurs” like Roy Emerson were making more money than the professionals — under the table, of course.

So Pandora’s box was opened and we now have professional athletes making millions of dollars playing games year-round who compete for an Olympic medal — and a bit of money under the table as well. Nothing comes for free and jingoism is the rule of the day: how many medals do we have, Pop? Do we have the most, huh? There are very few nooks left where we can find the true amateur: the athlete who plays for the pure love of sport. Professionalism has filtered down even into the ranks of the children in Little League and Pop Warner football where parents hassle their kids over losses and corporate sponsors stand by with a check book looking for the latest talent. The answer is not to play with no score and no winners or losers (that’s downright dishonest and the kids know it) but to simply keep the money out of it. Sadly, I suspect, that ship has sailed.

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5 thoughts on “Going For Olympic Gold

  1. long ago i witnessed parents pushing their very young children with harsh words like, ‘you’d better hit that ball!’ or they scolded them during a game for making childish mistakes. i’d often defend a child or team and say, ‘they’re young! they’re supposed to make mistakes!’ – they were supposed to be playing because they loved the sport and not because they were worried (and distracted) about getting scolded if they made a mistake.

    competition is great – one never improves if he/she doesn’t play someone better than he/she… those who have the will and drive to excel will keep working, and those who don’t might become the writers, the artists, the neurosurgeons! the game is about team work and reaching for your personal best, and analyzing what went wrong and how to make something better.

    and then money comes along…..

  2. The one hope for wrestling is that, while it may not have a large overall audience, those who do follow it are incredibly fervent. Even at the high school level in southwest Minnesota, wrestling in small towns like Canby, Minneota and Wabasso will vastly outdraw basketball games. I see that even more, now living in Iowa where high school and, of course, college wrestling are huge sports. The loyalty, the fan knowledge, the links — there are a lot of common threads through the history, the teams and families of wrestling — make it a sport that likely won’t die off. Perhaps for a few years, wrestling at the college and high school levels (and maybe even international) should work out a deal with one of the now-many sports TV networks. (Not just ESPN and its five networks, but NBC-Sports, the Big Ten Network (in the heart of wrestling territory), all the Fox Sports Nets. It’s probably a longshot, but you look at other odder sports like the X-games or NASCAR, which was once purely a regional sport, and they were buoyed by the intensity of their core fans, which lifted them then to national attention. Steady exposure on one of those new networks looking for programming (which is how ESPN started in its early days, running things like Australian rules football) could provide some verifiable ratings data. In wrestling’s case, it could restore it to the place it once held, and still deserves.

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