LAUSANNE, Switzerland: The IOC cut wrestling from the program for the 2020 Olympics on Tuesday, a stunning rebuke for a sport that goes back to the inaugural modern games in 1896 and has produced such champions as Russian great Alexander Karelin.
While modern pentathlon was widely considered the sport most at risk, the IOC executive board surprisingly voted to remove wrestling instead from the list of 25 “core” summer sports.
The board acted after reviewing the 26 sports on the current Olympic program. Eliminating one sport allows the International Olympic Committee to add a new sport to the program later this year.
“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “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.”
The decision was made by secret ballot over four rounds, with 14 members voting each time on which sport should not be included in the core group. IOC President Jacques Rogge did not vote.
Three sports were left in the final round — wrestling, field hockey and modern pentathlon. Eight members voted against wrestling and three each against the other two sports. Tae kwon do and canoe kayaking survived the previous rounds.
The final result surprised even some of the IOC members.
“I was shocked,” board member Rene Fasel of Switzerland said.
Wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, featured in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. It has produced such names as three-time Olympic gold medalist Karelin and American stars Bruce Baumgartner, Jeff Blatnick, Rulon Gardner and Jordan Burroughs.
Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year’s London Olympics. Women’s wrestling was added to the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games. Russians dominated the London podium, but Iran and Azerbaijan also had strong performances.
The international wrestling federation, known by the French acronym FILA, said it was “greatly astonished” by the decision.
“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,” the statement said.
FILA said it has always complied with IOC regulations and is represented in 180 countries, with wrestling the national sport in some of them.
The federation, which is headed by Raphael Martinetti and based in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, said it would hold a meeting next week in Thailand to discuss the matter.
Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. They will be vying for a single opening in 2020.
The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, 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, Argentina.
It is extremely unlikely that wrestling would be voted back in so soon after being removed by the executive board.
“Today’s decision is not final,” Adams said. “The session is sovereign and the session will make the final decision.”