The International Olympic Committee's decision to controversially drop wrestling from its 2020 programme has been described as "astonishing" and "hugely disappointing" following the omission of a sport that has featured in every Games except one since the Olympics' inception 117 years ago.
Fifteen members of the IOC executive board, not including the president, Jacques Rogge, recommended 25 core sports for the 2020 Olympics during a secret ballot vote in Lausanne. The board voted in favour of modern pentathlon, taekwondo and hockey but wrestling was surprisingly omitted for the event in Istanbul, Tokyo or Madrid.
However, it could still feature in 2020 should the IOC include it as an additional sport when it meets in Buenos Aires in September. Wrestling will compete with baseball/softball, roller sports, rock climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu, a Chinese martial art, for the remaining place, with each presenting their case for inclusion to the executive board in May.
The international wrestling federation, Fila, said they were "astonished" at the decision. "Fila will take all necessary measures to convince the IOC Executive Board and IOC members of the aberration of such [a] decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games," it said in a statement.
"Fila has always complied with the IOC regulations and is represented in 180 countries, with wrestling being the national sport in a fair amount of them and the only possibility for athletes to represent their country at the Olympic Games, thus contributing to their universality."
Great Britain had only one wrestler competing at London 2012, the Ukraine-born Olga Butkevych who lost in the first round, and only expect to have two medal contenders at Rio 2016. Yet despite the dearth of elite performers, the GB Wrestling chief, Colin Nicholson, expressed his dismay at the decision.
"Freestyle wrestling was developed in Great Britain and the United States during the 19th century. It's something like the sixth most popular collegiate sport in the US, ahead of swimming and tennis, so it's disappointing," he said.
"Also wrestling has a huge following across Eastern Europe and Asia. The number of people in Britain able to wrestle at Olympic level is very small, but it's a sport going in a positive way. Although it will be hugely disappointing not to have the Olympic top level to aspire to, we will be taking part in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and 2018."
The executive board reportedly considered 39 factors when making the decision on which event to drop for 2020, including TV popularity, ticket sales, universality, mix of gender and anti-doping efforts. Mark Adams, an IOC spokesman, said: "The executive board made their decision based on their experience. There is a collective intelligence there of people related to federations and they came to that decision.
"In the view of the executive board this was the best programme for the Olympic Games in 2020. It is not a case of what's wrong with wrestling, it's what is right with the 25 core sports."
Wrestling was an important event at the inaugural Athens Olympics of 1896 and has only missed one Games since, at Paris in 1900. The sport has two categories, freestyle and Greco-Roman, while 344 wrestlers competed at London 2012 with countries from eastern Europe and Asia dominating the medal table.
Golf and rugby sevens will join the Olympic programme for Rio 2016 and were therefore ineligible from expulsion for 2020 at this stage. It was believed that the modern pentathlon, which combines fencing, horse racing, swimming running and shooting, faced the biggest risk of being omitted, although its rich Games history could have influenced the decision.
The GB Modern Pentathlon chief executive, Jon Archer, said: "This absolutely secures the future of the sport, not just at an Olympic level but also in giving us the opportunity to develop and get more people involved. We can relax now and work to continually modernise the sport."
Olympic Games 2020 ·
International Olympic Committee
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