Editorial: Wrestling reinstated, but must adapt


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The International Olympic Committee voted Sunday to reinstate wrestling to the 2020 Summer Games to be held in Tokyo, several months after it nearly undid a millennia of athletics history by suggesting its removal from the Olympics.

In February, the IOC recommended dropping wresting after a review of all 26 of its “core” summer sports, which considered such factors as ticket sales and TV ratings. In the six months since that decision, the wrestling community was forced to compete with seven other sports including baseball, softball, and karate, for a single spot in the 2020 games.

In the end, after an enthusiastic campaign from the international wrestling community and some tweaks to the rules designed to update the sport, the IOC cast 49 votes to reinstate wrestling, compared with 24 for baseball/softball and 22 for squash.

We applaud the IOC’s decision to include wrestling in the 2020 Olympics, particularly considering the area’s deep ties to the national and international wrestling community.

The importance attached to wrestling in Iowa is evinced by the borderline melodrama of the local reaction to the IOC’s original decision.

“It’s worse than death,” Iowa wrestling coach and former Olympic gold-medal-winning wrestler Tom Brands said of the decision in February. “Because you can’t control death.”

Even Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad took the time to sign on to a letter to the IOC calling for the reinstatement of wrestling and for the committee to uphold the “sacred principle” of transparency in future decisions about changing the Olympics.

Rhetoric aside, Iowa’s special connection with wrestling is undeniable. This season, the University of Iowa led the nation in wrestling attendance for the seventh-consecutive year. Iowa’s dual meet against Penn State in February drew a crowd of 15,077 — the seventh-largest dual crowd in NCAA history. 

Olympic wrestling is also good business for Iowa. Last year, Iowa City and Coralville hosted wrestling trials for the 2012 London Olympics, which brought in about $5.6 million for the local economy during the three-day event. Iowa City and Coralville have both expressed interest in bring Olympic trials back to town in 2016.

For now, Iowans can breathe easy as wrestling has been granted a reprieve from the executioner. The threat to the long-term future of Olympic wrestling has not been done away with entirely, however.

Wrestling was granted provisional acceptance into the 2020 and 2024 Olympic programs but has not been reinstated as a core Olympic sport.

That means that wrestling may have yet to survive future attempts by the IOC to make the games more enticing for television viewers. The original intent of the review process that nearly led to wrestling’s demise, after all, was to add a television-viewer-friendly new sport to the 2020 games.

Wrestling, for all its history, can be confusing and dull for the uninitiated. That’s a problem that will have to be overcome by rule changes or more engaging television broadcasts if wrestling is to achieve long-term viability as a core Olympic event. 

In the meantime, for the long-term vitality of wrestling to be assured, its most ardent fans — many of whom live in Iowa — must become advocates for the sport. For this ancient sport to secure its spot in future Olympic games, it must connect with a wider audience.

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