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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Keep Wrestling

In case some of you reading this have missed it: apparently, the International Olympic Committee decided to drop the sport of wrestling from the 2020 Olympics.

I'm not quite sure I have the words to express how much this disappoints and angers me, but I will try.

I never wrestled. Not really. The opportunity wasn't there. Wrestling was cut from my high school the year before I started. My college had no wrestling program. I had a brief tenure at the Boston Union Wrestling Club, but the timing and location didn't quite work. Still, I feel a connection to, and admiration for, wrestling.

My father was a wrestler during his time at Lafayette college; he swears he wasn't that good. I have no idea how much of that is false modesty. I do know that years later, wrestling with me as all fathers do, he shared some tricks, and a lot of stories. My fondness for Wrestling and Judo stems from him, and both remain arts that I want to experience more deeply before my time is done.

As a martial artists, and particularly a combat athlete, I feel a certain kinship with wrestlers. In a way, Muay Thai and Wrestling have something in common--they are two underrated sports both given some new life through the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. While neither art ever became hugely commercially successful, both have found a greater degree of renown and respect through their association with MMA. Many of the greatest MMA fighters of the modern era have come from a wrestling background. Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Matt Hughes...the list goes on. I've met and worked with a number of people with strong wrestling backgrounds personally, and have always been awed by their tenacity and work ethic. Wrestling teaches valuable lessons.

As an amateur historian, the idea of removing wrestling from the Olympic games just offends me. Wrestling (along with boxing and pankration) was part of the Olympic games of Ancient Greece. It has been part of the modern Olympic games since their inception, and deservedly so.

Wrestling, in various forms, is possibly the oldest and most universal human sport. My biblical namesake is famous for, among other things, wrestling with an angel. Diagrams of wrestling maneuvers have been found in Ancient Egyptian tombs. While the rules vary from place to place, the basic idea of grappling with another human being and trying to throw or pin him seems to exist everywhere. Compiling an exhaustive list of wrestling traditions would be a project worthy of a doctorate. If there's a culture that LACKS some kind of wrestling tradition, I've never heard of it (I'm sure one is out there, but I don't know about it). There seems to be something primal (as overused as that word is) about the desire to wrestle. Children do it instinctively, and with a great sense of joy.

Of all of the Olympic sports, only running strikes me as something more accessible than wrestling to people around the world. To run, you need only yourself. Wrestling requires a partner. But it requires nothing else. No fancy equipment, no specialized devices, no carefully manicured fields. Two people, some free space, and the willingness to work. Nothing more.

There are many people who can speak more eloquently than I can about the impact that wrestling has had on their lives. I can only note that it is a wonderful sport, with a pedigree unsurpassed by any other, and a claim on Olympic honors second to none.

Finally, I'd ask the IOC (should they ever read this) to consider this; consider the message you are sending with this action. That a sport that requires tenacity, faith, endurance, courage, skill, and perseverance should be eliminated because it's not flashy or cool. That in the end, what the Olympics are about is not about tradition or athletic achievement, but about ratings. That it is far more important to appear popular than it is to preserve something worth preserving.

That is the message here. Get rid of wrestling because it's not popular. Get rid of wrestling because it doesn't bring in the ratings.

It's a terrible message.

I'm including a bunch of links here, and will try to add to them as I go. The first is the most important--it's a petition to the IOC to restore wrestling to its rightful place in the Olympics. Please go sign it, and pass it along.

There is a facebook page "Save Olympic Wrestling". Like it.

#Keepwrestling and #keepwrestling2020 have both become tags on Twitter.

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