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This is a niche topic, I realize. But perhaps not. You don’t have to be a wrestler to know the long association the sport’s had with the modern Olympics, not to mention ancient Greece.

Wrestling has gotten the boot: http://sports.nationalpost.com/2013/02/12/wrestling-the-odd-one-out-in-olympic-popularity-contest/

More interesting than the story, almost, are some of the comments. I think readers are on to something when they complain wrestling has been cut while other sports are given multiple events, and still others are principally professional.

Do we need as many swimming events as we have? How about cycling? And why do professional tennis athletes or basketball players need the Olympic forum (nice to have, of course, but if something has to be cut…)?

Wrestling could still make it back, of course. The Olympics will be adding a new sport, and wrestling gets to compete for that slot. Some of those sports deserve an Olympic berth, while others….well, maybe not so much.

The one part of the analysis that leaves me a little cold is the populist approach to slamming modern pentathlon – to turn it into a rich man, poor man argument. There is some merit to it, I suppose. I get that the committee’s membership was biased against wrestling because nations that do well in it (often less affluent) didn’t have much representation. But the validity of a sport isn’t ultimately based on how accessible it is to the general public.

I tend to think competing in any sport at an Olympic level isn’t especially accessible to anyone: elite training in all sports requires significant financial sacrifices. I’ll grant pentathlon may take that to a new level, but the sport has a long tradition and is a fascinating mix of skills and conditioning. Like I said above, surely we could cut a swimming or running distance or one of the many racquet sports before removing pentathlon or wrestling?

My guess is the cynics are right: It comes down to ad revenue. Wrestling already got next-to-no television coverage as it is. It’s not impossible there’s a chicken-egg effect occurring here. Sumo is very popular in Japan and MMA has grown by leaps and bounds in North America. Audiences are clearly capable of enjoying and understanding grappling sports. Is it possible wrestling’s obscurity is partially due to the failure of networks to give it wider coverage? Has the sport fallen prey to a self-fulfilling prophecy: give it no exposure, then axe it because it isn’t popular?

Probably not. If there’s money to be made, surely networks would find it.

Bottom line, though, the Olympics shouldn’t be just about the cash. There is no more fundamental sporting activity on the planet than two people, no equipment required (at its most elemental level), seeking victory through strength, endurance, speed, skill and fortitude.

One quote in a sidebar on the above-linked article mentions the need to change the sport to make it more appealing to the general public. I initially balked at the idea, but I think it actually has some merit. If Olympic freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling have flaws it’s their somewhat obscure point-scoring systems. I’m not saying wrestling should be replaced with sumo, but that Japanese sport undeniably has a simple scoring system: you win when your opponent touches the ground with anything other than the flats of his feet, or when any part of his body touches outside the small circle in which they wrestle. Its simplicity is perhaps part of its huge appeal (among the older generation, anyway) in Japan.

Wrestling could probably find a broader audience if it could simplify the methods used to determine winners of matches.

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