Head in the sand ... Wrestling officials did not lobby for the sport to stay in the Olympic because they did not realise it was in danger of being removed. Photo: Getty Images
For those whose affection for the Olympics was never rekindled after the scandalous removal of Tug of War from the program at Paris 1924, this is the final straw. Wrestling, a sport as synonymous with the five-ringed circus as the marathon, doping scandals and pigeon-chested officials in frightful blazers, has been counted out.
From 2020, we will deprived of the quadrennial pleasure of watching large, perspirant Eastern Europeans in body-hugging leotards folding each other into shapes unimagined by the finest exponents of origami. Never more the quasi-erotic thrills of a follicularly enriched Bulgarian and a German with a constipated grimace grappling to the strains of Roy and HG's Barry White CD.
It is the thin end of the wedge. Or, during particularly desperate encounters, the wedgy.
Greco-Roman wrestling events taking place at Empress Hall, Earl's Court, during the London Olympics in 1948. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Arch
The IOC's decision to dump wrestling came as a shock. Modern pentathlon had seemed the most likely of the five sports under scrutiny to be axed. This based on the reasonable assumption that Baron de Coubertin's personal cocktail of pistol shooting, fencing, horseriding, running and swimming is now about as "modern" as pin-the-tale-on-the-pterodactyl.
However, doing little to improve the stereotypical view of its combatants, the peak wrestling body reportedly failed to lobby the IOC's 15-member executive board before the vote, believing it was safe. And, as anyone who has worked on host city bid well knows, failing to lobby an IOC committee is like forgetting to feed your pet crocodile.
So modern pentathlon, hockey, canoeing and taekwondo survived and, shockingly, wrestling got the chop. An outcome justified by IOC spokesman Mark Adams as part of the "process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics."
Wrestling was one of the few modern Olympic sports that was part of the ancient Games. Photo: AFP
Or, the cynical might suggest, as part of the process of clearing the ancient deadwood that does not attract sufficient TV ratings and marketing dollars, or produce luminous global superstars, and replacing them with sports with high revenue potential, or which appeal to a younger demographic. Thus, when wrestling tries to fight its way back on to the 2020 program as the 25th sport later this year, its competitors will include rollerblading, rock climbing and wakeboarding. Which seem more like reasons to take out private health cover than watch the Olympics.
Wrestling officials have also, reportedly, shown more enthusiasm for the type of female wrestling that takes place in jelly than on the Olympic program. Not a good look with the IOC eager to improve gender equality.
On a commercial basis, it is difficult to argue for wrestling's reinstatement. Even allowing for its popularity in Eastern Europe and Asia, and in the American college system. But, as the IOC panders to tennis, golf and other wealthy interlopers, it risks further diminishing its greatest appeal. The sense that every sport, no matter how obscure, is at its very best at the Olympics.
Dropped ... wrestling set to be dumped from Olympics. Photo: Getty Images
Wrestling – particularly the more obscure Greco-Roman variety – has remained an endearing curiosity. Just because you have to scan your copy of Wrestling For Idiots before heading to the venue does not mean it is out of place. On the contrary, being challenged to embrace different sports is part of the fun. Having been included in all but one Olympics, Paris 1900, wrestling also has a rich history.
Right back to Athens 1896, when the sole, all-comers wrestling gold medal was won by German Carl Schumann, who had previously won three gold medals in gymnastics, and competed in athletics and weightlifting. Which makes Israel Folau seem about as versatile as Bryan Brown.
Schumann beat Georgios Tsitas – one of two Greek specialists – in a final that involved leg grappling and a number of other holds no longer permitted. Which, some might suggest, is the problem with old-style wrestling. As other Olympic sports included professionals, the greatest wrestling showmen were the circus show freaks of the WWF and, later, WWE.
Of course, Hulk Hogan and his cronies could not have defied even the IOC's then flimsy drug protocols. Still, it would have been interesting watching Juan Antonio Samaranch attempting to retrieve an ill-gotten gold medal from the Iron Sheik or George "The Animal" Steele.
But if amateur wrestling could not provide this type of entertainment, at least the IOC should consider sports that will. My vote goes to darts.