The American wrestling community has reacted with dismay to the news that the International Olympic Committee has voted to remove the sport from the summer Olympic Games in 2020. The IOC executive board made the decision in a secret ballot, after a review of all 26 current core sports, in order to create space to introduce a new sport to the Games.
Wrestling, which was part of the first modern games in 1896, received more votes for exclusion than taekwondo, kayaking, field hockey and modern pentathlon. The new Olympic sport will be announced later this year; wrestling will be able to apply for re-inclusion – though it would be unlikely to succeed – alongside baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.
An IOC spokesman, Mark Adams, said: "This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics. 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."
American Olympic wrestling has a strong history, having produced such stars as Bruce Baumgartner, Jeff Blatnick, Rulon Gardner and Jordan Burroughs. Baumgartner won four Olympic medals, including golds in 1984 and 1992; Blatnick, who died last year, overcame cancer to win Greco-Roman gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games; Gardner won gold in Sydney in 2000 and Burroughs emerged as a star at London 2012, where he won 74kg gold.
Many US wrestlers, coaches and fans used the campaigning website Change.org to register their opposition to the IOC decision.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Tim Newman, a senior campaigner for the website, said: "Within the last few hours, 10,235 people have signed 24 new petitions on Change.org to save Olympic wrestling, which has been a part of every modern Olympics since they began in 1896, not to mention the ancient games."
Comments on the largest petition on the website, which had attracted more than 7,500 signatures, included "My dad wrestled in the Olympics and it would crush me to see wrestling be eliminated as an Olympic sport" and "The wrestling community rallied behind me during cancer treatments, I am going to stand behind our wrestling family now".
USA Wrestling, the sport's national governing body, announced its opposition to the decision and created a Facebook page to support its campaign against ejection from the Olympics.
A statement said: "The Facebook page is titled 'Keep Wrestling in the Olympics'. The page is intended to be a worldwide effort to inform the International Olympic Committee and the world that wrestling should be an Olympic sport.
"USA Wrestling would ask every supporter of wrestling to "like" the "Keep Wrestling in the Olympics" Facebook page and to spread the word to every corner of your wrestling community. This is but one of many steps that USA Wrestling will take to help see wrestling retained in the Olympic Games."
The 10th of USA Wrestling's 13 talking points on the issue, which were released to the media, stated: "Wrestlers are known for their work ethic. As a community, we will work tirelessly from this point forward letting the world know about why wrestling is so special. We believe that we have the ability to be successful."
The international wrestling federation, FILA, said it was "greatly astonished" by the decision. A statement said: "FILA will take all necessary measures to convince the IOC executive board and IOC members of the aberration of such decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games." FILA will hold a meeting to discuss the matter in Thailand next week.
The IOC executive board will meet in May in St Petersburg, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires.
"Today's decision is not final," Adams said. "The session is sovereign and the session will make the final decision."
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