The Director s Chair by Rich Bender Good news for the sport of wrestling

By Rich Bender | May 21, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
There were a great couple of weeks for wrestling earlier this spring. First, the 2003 NCAA Div. I Championships were successfully completed in Kansas City, Mo. What a great showcase for wrestling this has become! Congratulations to John Smith and the Oklahoma State Cowboys on such an outstanding year, winning virtually every competition they entered. John has long been a great supporter of USA Wrestling, first as an unbelievable athlete, then as a coach. He continues to volunteer to coach our top athletes on the international level. The level of competition at the year's NCAA Tournament was outstanding. Based upon the fact that almost every member of the men's U.S. National Team competed at the NCAA level, the future of our international success is in good hands. It is also nice to report some good news about wrestling on the international level. In recent years, wrestling has been a target for cutbacks by the International Olympic Committee in its efforts to reduce the size and the cost of the Olympic Games. It seems that for now, at least through the 2008 Olympic Games, wrestling will have a reprieve. Perhaps the most exciting news to come from USA Wrestling's Board of Directors meetings in Boise, Idaho was delivered by FILA Vice President Mario Saletnig. During his presentation, Mr. Saletnig provided information from a meeting between FILA, the international wrestling federation, and Mr. Jacques Rogge, the President of the IOC. Saletnig reported that FILA received assurances from Mr. Rogge that there would be no additional reductions of medal events in wrestling through the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. At that time, the international wrestling community will have to make its case to the IOC about the positive changes that the sport has made in order to maintain and strengthen its place in the Olympic program. Why is this good news? Only six weeks earlier, the IOC's Executive Board made its announcement concerning the possible reductions in disciplines and events on the Olympic program for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Wrestling was one of the sports that was under review. The IOC decided to maintain both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling on the Olympic program, but was still interested in possible cuts in the number of medal events for the sport. Wrestling, which had 10 weight classes for men as recently as the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, has already been reduced to seven weight classes in each style for this Olympic cycle. Women's wrestling, the newest sport on the Summer Olympic program, will only have four sets of medals for the 2004 Athens Games, rather than the seven that are contested at the World Championships. The wrestling community understands that our sport had already done more than its share of sacrifice in the IOC cutback efforts. Mr. Rogge and the International Olympic Committee clearly did not have all the facts about wrestling on the Olympic level. To educate the IOC, the staff at USA Wrestling conducted considerable research in the history of medal events and athlete participation in recent Olympic Games. The research went back to the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, the last "open" Olympics where there was no quota on the number of athletes. What was discovered was that wrestling has been reduced drastically since the Seoul Games, and no other sport has sacrificed more in terms of medal events and participation. Prior to the meeting between the IOC and FILA, two detailed letters were sent to President Rogge. The first letter was eight pages long and very detailed, with five pages of charts for review. Some of the facts contained in that letter were: * Wrestling has given up 30% of its men's medals in the Olympic Games since 1996. * Wrestling has accepted only 57% of the medal opportunities for women at the Olympics in comparison to its World Championships categories. * In comparison to the Seoul Games, there has been a reduction of 116 freestyle wrestlers (45%) and 72 Greco-Roman wrestlers (34%) in men's wrestling. Overall, from the Seoul Games to the Athens Games, men's wrestling participation has been reduced by an exceedingly high 40%. The letter also pointed out the fact that wrestling had a lack of representation on the IOC. As one of only 31 Summer Olympic sports, it would seem wrestling should have an active voice in the Olympic leadership. That is not the case. Consider this: * Of the 126 IOC members currently serving, only two list wrestling as a sport in their background biographies. * None of the Executive Board members have a wrestling background. The second letter provided a new set of statistics and perspective. In this letter, the 2004 Olympics was compared to the 1996 Atlanta Games. Consider these facts from the second letter: * Wrestling has given up the largest percentage of overall medals of any sport (10%). * Wrestling has one of the largest percentages of total athletes reduced (-15.27%), all while adding women's wrestling! It was suggested that in the future, the IOC should add back weight classes, while changing its qualification system. The seed has been planted for discussion about reclaiming some of the lost medals. We have been told that these two letters, along with the published statistics, were important in the IOC's decision not to cut any more wrestling medals through the 2008 Olympics. This is truly good news. If the wrestling community has the opportunity to present the facts about the sport to the decision makers, we have a good chance to protect the sport and help it grow in the future.