The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has come up with a shocker by voting to recommend that wrestling be pushed off the Olympic mat in 2020. It is an unexpected, cruel blow to a sport that was part of the ancient Olympics and figured in the inaugural modern Games in 1896 and every subsequent edition except 1900. If it finally goes out of the 2020 programme, it will be the biggest sport yet to be axed from the Games. The IOC Board has expectedly drawn flak from around the globe for its decision but a final picture will only emerge at its General Assembly meeting in September when the venue for the 2020 Games will also be chosen. Wrestling will get another chance in May when it will be clubbed with seven other previously-approved disciplines for consideration of the IOC Board which may recommend more than one sport to its Session, although just one will make it eventually. The IOC goes through an elaborate assessment before deleting or including a sport in the Olympic programme. That is precisely the reason why its latest decision is looking downright absurd if not biased. In a majority of the 39 criteria that the IOC programme commission applies to formulate its evaluation report after every Olympics, wrestling should score over at least modern pentathlon, which was widely tipped to get the axe.

Several critics, besides the International Wrestling Federation, have pointed out that a “clash of interests” among the IOC board members voting to pick the 25 ‘core sports’ for the 2020 Games could have contributed to the outcome. The question of excluding modern pentathlon, a sport that combines fencing, swimming, horseback riding, shooting and running, invented by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, might have touched an emotional chord among the members. But there is no denying the more popular appeal of wrestling, a sport that is easy to follow, and, alongside running, is an elemental discipline that embodies the spirit of the Olympics. The fact that wrestling had medal winners from 29 countries, more than the number of participating nations (26) in modern pentathlon at the last Olympics, should clinch the argument about ‘universality,’ something the IOC seriously advocates. The IOC Board does not have a member from any of the dominant ‘wrestling powers’ including the U.S. and Russia. India, which won two of its six medals in the London Olympics in wrestling — and has four in all from the sport — is justifiably upset at a time when its National Olympic Committee stands suspended. Subtle diplomacy, rather than strident criticism against the IOC, may yet help the Sports Ministry contribute to the rescue of the sport.