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One year after IOC decision to axe wrestling, it’s back, stronger than ever

Good things came from the bad decision from the IOC to eliminate -- then reinstate -- wrestling from the Olympics
Good things came from the bad decision from the IOC to eliminate -- then reinstate -- wrestling from the OlympicsInternational Olympic Committee

One year ago – Feb. 12, 2013 – the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board made the stunning decision to eliminate wrestling from its roster of core sports effective with the 2020 Olympics.

That cold day, it was hard to imagine that decision would be reversed seven months later, with the entire IOC voting in September to reinstate wrestling on a provisional basis for the 2020 and 2024 Games.

Twelve months ago, it was also impossible to think that, ultimately, some good could come of the IOC blunder. But a case can be made that wrestling is now stronger than it was last February. Let us count some of the ways.

All three forms of Olympic wrestling will be back. Men’s and women’s freestyle wrestling – as well as men’s Greco-Roman – will be featured at the 2020 and 2024 Olympics. Last winter and spring, there was some discussion that perhaps Greco should be jettisoned in an attempt to boost the sport’s overall chances with the IOC. (There was even talk that Greco grapplers might compete in trunks, without shirts, to help further differentiate that style from freestyle… and to quote Nenad Lalovic, head of the international wrestling federation FILA, last May, “We propose that wrestlers in Greco-Roman style should be shirtless. We think it will be more interesting and better for the spectators.”)

A new appreciation for wrestling from general sports media – and the general public. After the IOC’s initial announcement, wrestling supporters found immediate, strong support from individuals who might not know a takedown from a touchdown. Or, perhaps more accurately, nearly universal disbelief from the general public and non-wrestling sports media, with comments ranging from the rational (“Wrestling was one of the original Olympic sports!”) to the stunningly honest (“What could those idiots be thinking?”) The values that wrestlers and fans value – hard work, dedication, resiliency, straightforwardness – became readily apparent to individuals throughout the world.

New rules. In its effort to address issues raised by the IOC, FILA made serious revisions to the rules to encourage aggressive action and more scoring (rather than cautiousness and stalemates), to make the sport more appealing to athletes… and to fans and would-be fans.

A new attitude at FILA. The governing body for wrestling had a reputation as being aloof, arrogant… seemingly unconcerned about the athletes or the fans. Within days of the IOC decision, FILA took the bold move of casting off its long-time president, replacing him with Lalovic, who brought a new spirit of openmindedness and cooperation to his organization that was demonstrated by rule changes and providing more opportunities for women on the mat and within the organization, as well as better outreach and more effective communication, including a much more user-friendly website.

More new college wrestling programs. At least eight schools throughout the U.S. announced in 2013 that they would be establishing (or reinstating) mat programs in the coming months… including four new women’s programs. It can be argued that the threat to Olympic wrestling opportunities helped propel schools to see the importance of offering new opportunities to compete in the sport on their campuses… and the value of wrestling as a recruiting tool.

New ventures to provide new opportunities for post-college wrestlers. It can be argued that the IOC’s death sentence for Olympic wrestling set into motion at least three new ventures – Agon Wrestling Championships, Tour ACW (Association of Career Wrestlers) and Victory Wrestling Challenge – all which made their debut in fall 2013.

At least two new books. In October, “Saving Wrestling” came off the presses. Written by award-winning wrestling writers Jamie Moffatt and Craig Sesker, the book chronicles the IOC decision… and the epic struggle on the part of individuals and organizations around the world to put the sport back in the Olympics. This week, “Full Circle: The 209 Days that United the World and Saved an Olympic Sport” by T.R. Foley, InterMat senior writer and former University of Virginia All-American, will make its debut.

There are plenty of other positives to come from the IOC’s decision from one year ago. And that’s something to celebrate on this one-year anniversary of what seemed like a hopeless situation.

Want to know more? Click here to see a full list of College Wrestling Examiner stories about the IOC decision to eliminate, then reinstate wrestling to the Olympics.

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