In a surprising decision, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to remove wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games, leaving the wrestling and mixed martial arts worlds stunned by the news. While conventional wisdom held the modern pentathalon would be removed, the IOC instead removed both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, affecting 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events from the London Games, according to the New York Times.
The removal comes as part of a traditional review by the IOC to ensure the Olympic portfolio of sports is current and in keeping with modern affectations. "In an effort to ensure the Olympic Games remain relevant to sports fans of all generations, the Olympic Programme Commission systematically reviews every sport following each edition of the Games," an IOC-issued press release said.
Requests for comment from executive leadership of FILA, the international governing body of the sport of wrestling, were not immediately returned.
The vote of the IOC's executive board isn't presently binding. For the moment, wrestling joins baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu in the race for one available slot to be filled in the 2020 Games. Those eight sports will have the opportunity to lobby the executive board of the IOC at the 125th IOC Session in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is widely expected, however, that wrestling will not be quickly re-introduced after just being removed.
According to multiple reports, the board acted after reviewing an IOC program commission on all of the sports considered for removal (taekwondo and field hockey, among others, were also on the list). The report evaluated those sports on 39 criteria, which includes television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity. However, there were no official recommendations in the report nor rankings of those sports considered for removal. The 15-member executive board was free to vote on criteria that mattered most to them.
"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told the Associated Press. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling, it is what's right with the 25 core sports."
Baseball and softball were voted out by the IOC in 2005. Golf and rubgy sevens will join the Olympic 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The move comes as a huge blow to the United States, the most successful country in the history of Olympic wrestling in terms of aggregate medal count. Wrestling has been a fixture of the modern Olympic Games since it's own re-introduction in 1896. Women's wrestling was added to the Olympics in 2004.