“Manly” Sports: The Vision and Purpose of Modern Olympics

Side note: I don’t know a better word than “manly” to represent the kind of activity that requires incredible physical fortitude. Nothing to do with men or women.

Wrestling (both freestyle and greco) is out of the Olympics in 2020. I’m at a loss of words.

crying-indianI feel like the old native american with a tear drop rolling down his face as he looks out over the land taken over by a very different civilization than the one he grew up in.

This USA Today article¬†defends wrestling in a way that I would never defend wrestling, saying “sure wrestling isn’t popular, but it’s better than the following five sports that are still in: modern pentathlon, ping pong, race walking, trampoline, judo”.

Judo made it in their list of sports that no one cares about. That had me thinking all day yesterday. What if they are right? I live in a sports bubble where the “combat” sports are considered to be the purest representation of competition. I grew up in a world where the “manly” sports were at the core of the Olympics. My “manly” sports, I mean ones that have the most combative physical contact and/or require the most strength. In the winter Olympics it was hockey, and in the summer Olympics it was wrestling and weightlifting.

Perhaps, a lot of my views of sports has to do with the fact that I grew up in the former Soviet Union, or that I wrestled in high school and have participated in some kind of “combat” sport since age 12. But I also played tennis and chess for a long time, so I don’t know…

I have to step back and wonder how the rest of the world sees wrestling. Maybe the characteristics of a sport do not matter. What matters for the Olympics is that a lot of people do it and watch it. That way we get to see some incredible displays of will and skill. Synchronized swimming has been given as an example of ridiculousness, but those ladies probably practice as much as the wrestlers for their whole life. Maybe the activity doesn’t matter, and what matters is that we can excite a large enough percentage of the population to dedicate the first 20-30 years of their life to mastering this activity.

Like I said, right now I’m the crying Indian, in a state of disbelief, grasping at random clues in attempting to understand where our culture is drifting.

I leave this post with a few stats selected from this NWCA wrestling facts page.

Scholastic Wrestling

  • Scholastic wrestling ranks 6th of all boys’ sports in terms of participation at the high school level with over 272,000 nation-wide (behind football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and track).
  • Since 2002-03, the number of high school wrestlers has grown by over 30,000.
  • Over 10,400 schools sponsors wrestling which is the highest ever.
  • In 2008/09, 42 new wrestling programs were established in Arkansas and the Arkansas High School Athletic Association became the 49th state to sanction a high school state wrestling championship currently, Mississippi is the only state that does not.

Collegiate Wrestling

  • Intercollegiate wrestling has over 100 years of competition.
  • Collegiate wrestling typically ranks in the top 5 in revenue production of all NCAA Championships (2009 NCAA Championships set a NCAA attendance record).
  • 81 new intercollegiate wrestling teams (all divisions) have been established since 2002.
  • Wrestling has very modest start-up costs and needs.

International Wrestling

  • Wrestling was included in the ancient Olympic Games, and was one of the select sports included in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in 1896.
  • Over 135 nations sponsor a wrestling federation.
  • Wrestling is one of the top three medal winning sports for the United States.

0 thoughts on ““Manly” Sports: The Vision and Purpose of Modern Olympics

  1. Alan

    The IOC is a complex beast, to say the least, but I think it really does come back to money. More specifically, it comes down to American money. The Olympics rely almost entirely on the TOP program (The Olympic Partners – powerful American/multinational companies) for their revenue, so I imagine these sponsors have more of a say in the events chosen than we might be led to believe. The sports have to be something they want to tie their products to. Ping pong and badminton survive because of their popularity in the Asian markets (at least that’s my guess).

    Wrestling in the US is, rightly or wrongly, tied to what people see on Raw or Smackdown, so when the real thing is broadcast, the viewers are likely pretty bored by it because it differs too significantly from what they’ve been conditioned to expect. I barely watched it, except when Canadians were in medal contention, and even then, the matches were ho-hum.

    A major downside of high level grappling sports is that, unless there’s a significant difference in skill level between two opponents, then a lot of the “cool stuff” is never seen because the competitors are too good to allow the dynamic moves to be executed… that’s another reason Kosei Inoue was so impressive. Are sponsors willing to tie their products to sports whose athletes, to outsiders, don’t seem to be doing anything? With the other sports, there’s more obvious dynamic movements and action to them. The only explanation I have for the survival of the modern pentathlon is its connection to Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic games.

    1. Lex Post author

      That’s a very clear way of looking at the issue. If I evaluate a sport by how much dynamic action there is, perhaps taking away Olympic wrestling makes sense. But I think that “exciting” and “dynamic” do not necessarily equal each other. Shooting, archery, golf are examples of sports where the ratio of action to non-action is very low, but are still interesting. I think for many of the sports, they become “exciting” when you learn more about them, things like: rules, personalities, rivalries, etc. Wrestling is no exception.

      PS: Very good info on the TOP program. Thanks. You are probably right on their influence in this decision.

      1. Alan

        Naturally, the more one knows about a given sport or activity, the more interesting or exciting it becomes. There’s a personal investment in it. I’m at a loss as to how many of the sports have remained a part of the Olympic movement, for the most part. The shooting disciplines, including archery, don’t tend to get a lot of air time, and I can’t imagine they’re packing the stands, either.

        I wonder if it would be worthwhile for Wrestling to be moved to the Winter games… after all, it’s contested indoors. I could say the same thing about volleyball, considering beach volleyball already has a spot in the summer games. Just random thoughts.

        1. Lex Post author

          Those are interesting possibilities, but something just occurred to me. For 70 years from 1936, no sport was removed from the Olympics. And we just started doing it now. That says something doesn’t it? Judo rules are changing. Olympic sports are changing. Why? There should be checks and balances (like in the US government) to slow changes of these kinds.

          1. Alan

            Again, I return to money. If memory serves me (it’s been a decade since my Olympic studies undergrad course), the Olympics were largely financial losers up until the 1984 games in Los Angeles (the year the first incarnation of the TOP program appeared). The US television broadcast rights are worth an ungodly sum (the Canadian broadcast rights, by contrast are a pittance relatively speaking), which no doubt exerts a certain pressure.

            The networks are driven by advertising revenue, which I’m sure plays a role in what sports are broadcast in which time slot (this isn’t an issue in Canada, as much, since we broadcast the events live,regardless of who wins, and don’t package together edited country-specific narratives to make for “gripping TV”, but that’s neither here nor there). Add in the TOP sponsors, and you have a Games that have more of a vested interest in promoting sports that will generate US viewership than promoting the motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.

            I find it somewhat interesting that many of Judo’s rule changes in recent years seem to be aimed at distancing the art from Wrestling, perhaps out of fear that the Games would only tolerate so much grappling. It’s pretty shocking that, if things don’t change, Judo will be the sole grappling sport in the Games… mind you, that still won’t prompt them to bring back leg attacks, but that’s a story for another day.

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