IN A.D. 393, the ancient Olympic Games were abolished — they had become too corrupt. Wrestling was among the first sports in those ancient Games; wrestling was also included at the start of the modern Olympics, in 1896.
Yet on Tuesday in Lausanne, Switzerland, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee voted by secret ballot to eliminate wrestling, starting in 2020. At the same meeting, it voted to keep the modern pentathlon.
You might have missed the modern pentathlon last summer in London, where only 26 countries participated in the combined shooting, horseback-riding, running, swimming and fencing event. In the same Olympics, there were wrestling medalists from 29 countries. In other words: more countries won medals in wrestling than competed in the modern pentathlon. Globally, the TV audience for wrestling averages 23 million viewers. The modern pentathlon averages 12.5 million.
An I.O.C. spokesman said of Tuesday’s vote, “It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling.” It’s a matter of what’s right with the other sports, he claimed. But what to think about the board member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. of Spain? The son of a former I.O.C. president, he is also a vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union. In the international wrestling community, talk of his conflict of interests is understandably widespread.