So how can wrestling save itself from extinction as an Olympic sport? Maybe it needs to start bribing the shit out of members of the International Olympic Committee, preferably with vacations and hookers.
The IOC's decision to drop wrestling after 2016 means wrestling has to get back in line alongside seven other sports—baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, wushu—for a May meeting of the IOC's executive board in St. Petersburg, Russia. After those seven are done kissing the right rings and curtsying for the right poobahs, the IOC will whittle that number down to three. A final decision on which one makes the cut will come after another song and dance number is performed in September in Buenos Aires.
Wrestling supporters have already made their intentions to lobby the IOC known, and lobbying the IOC is considered perfectly legitimate by the IOC (because of course it is). Bruce Baumgartner, a two-time Olympic wrestling gold-medal winner and the first vice president of USA wrestling, told me over the phone it's possible that FILA, international wrestling's governing body, did not know how vulnerable it was and thus did not lobby the IOC as well as it should have.
"It looks like other sports did a better job making the case for their sports than we did," he said.
Baumgartner emphasized that he was only speculating. He said he was simply following "the logic" of how wrestling might have drawn the short straw, since he was not directly involved in any lobbying effort or any decision-making that was done by FILA. But what constitutes lobbying? Baumgartner, who is also the athletic director at Edinboro (Pa.) University, described it in benign terms, saying it often amounts to taking an IOC member to a nice dinner and making some sort of persuasive presentation. He said he would not characterize Olympic lobbying efforts as "bribes," which has "a negative connotation."
But a source said the lobbying likely involves a lot more than making promises about ticket sales and television ratings before the glasses of Madeira are brought to the table. The source did not work on a lobbying campaign, but he has direct knowledge of past visits to the U.S. made by foreign Olympic officials. He has seen firsthand how Olympic favor is curried: "Trips and vacations for IOC members and their families. Prostitutes are ordered. Bribes aren't always in direct monetary form—more gift form. It's basically about 'taking care of' the IOC members. Those dudes don't need money, so that's kind of the last thing down the list. Now escalate that to a ton of rich dudes trying to impress each other."
Wrestling has other obstacles to overcome. For one, a USA wrestling source said the sport changed its rules after getting heat from the IOC following the 2000 Games. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president at the time, was at the match when Rulon Gardner of the U.S. upset Russia's Aleksandr Karelin to win Greco-Roman gold. The action suggested Karelin was winning. But Gardner won fairly based on what were wrestling's actual rules at the time.
"If you don't know any wrestling rules, you wouldn't understand why [Karelin] lost," our source said. "The IOC was giving FILA pressure to make wrestling more exciting for the casual fan. They wanted to make it more transparent as far as the winner and loser."
Scoring in wrestling has always had a subjective component, which can make the sport difficult for a casual observer to understand. But instead of a cumulative score over three periods, each period in international wrestling—both in freestyle and Greco-Roman—is now scored separately, in the same way boxing separately scores individual rounds. The changes have eliminated the possibility of overtime, but they've also devalued the importance of what some traditionalists say is integral to wrestling: the stamina required to go three rounds or more. "I liked the old rules, but that's almost a personal preference," Baumgartner said.
There is one other major obstacle working against wrestling: Samaranch's son, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., sits on the IOC's executive committee, which made the decision to kill wrestling. But Samaranch Jr. is also the vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union. Modern pentathlon was thought to be the sport the Olympics would axe, but by some miracle, it was saved. Allow Samaranch to explain why:
"We were considered weak in some of the scores in the program commission report but strong in others," Samaranch told the Associated Press. "We played our cards to the best of our ability and stressed the positives. Tradition is one of our strongest assets, but we are also a multi-sport discipline that produces very complete people."
Right. Because wrestling has no Olympic tradition whatsoever. But it's nothing wrestling can't overcome with more bri—uh, lobbying. Yeah, that's it. Wrestling just needs more lobbying.