Wrestling, one of the most ancient and traditional Olympic sports, was dropped from the Summer Games in a stunning and widely criticized decision Tuesday by the International Olympic Committee.
Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling will be contested at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but they will be excluded from the 2020 Summer Games, for which a host city has not yet been named, the Olympic committee said Tuesday.
The decision to drop wrestling was made by secret ballot by the committee’s 15-member executive board at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. The exact vote and the reasons for the decision were not given in detail.
There is a chance that the Olympic committee can reverse that decision in May, when it considers a 26th sport to add to the 2020 games. A final decision will be made in September, but wrestling’s Olympic future seems doubtful, said veteran observers of the games.
In recent years, the IOC has expressed concern about the size of the Summer Games and wanted to cap the number of athletes at about 10,500. It has also said it wants to enhance its modernity by drawing younger viewers among the international television audience. On Tuesday, the Olympic committee said in a statement that it wanted to ensure that it remained “relevant to sports fans of all generations."
Sports like snowboarding have been added to the Winter Games to broaden the audience. Golf and rugby will be added to the 2016 Rio Games. Among the sports that wrestling must compete with for future inclusion are climbing, rollerblading and wakeboarding.
The committee might also have grown frustrated that Greco-Roman wrestling did not include women, experts said. Women began participating in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Athens Games.
Mark Adams, a spokesman for the Olympic committee, told reporters in Lausanne that Tuesday’s vote was a “process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics." He also 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."
Wrestling’s world governing body, known by its initials as FILA and based in Switzerland, said it was “greatly astonished" by Tuesday’s decision and would take “all necessary measures" to persuade the Olympic committee to keep the sport in the Summer Games.